HILO >> An ash eruption at the Kilauea summit sent a plume 10,000 feet above sea level Wednesday to punctuate the devastating lava inundation of the Vacationland subdivision, leaving hundreds of homes likely destroyed.
The plume prompted the Hawaii County Civil Defense to alert communities in Volcano and Pahala of the negative impact on air quality due to winds blowing in the southwesterly direction.
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Civil Defense reported the latest confirmed count of homes overrun by lava has increased to 130 from 117. The tally reflects homes destroyed in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions.
The figure, however, is expected to soar as “hundreds of homes” are believed to be destroyed in Vacationland and Kapoho Beach Lots, said Civil Defense spokeswoman Janet Snyder.
At a news briefing held Wednesday outside of the Civil Defense building, Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said, “Vacationland is totally gone. It’s covered by lava. Kapoho Beach Lots, the northern section, is still intact but the rest of it is all under lava.”
Officials are reviewing aerial photographs as well as census and property tax records to determine the number of homes consumed by lava.
Census records show about 350 homes at Vacationland and 150 homes at Kapoho Beach Lots, according to Magno.
With the recent devastation of the two subdivisions, the number of people who have sought shelter at the Pahoa Community Center and Keaau Armory is at 410.
Magno said the armory located near the Keaau Shipman Park is at maximum capacity at this time.
In the aftermath of the high-rising plume, officials urged communities to stay indoors with the windows closed to prevent exposure to noxious fumes. Motorists are also advised to keep their windows closed and exercise extreme caution while driving as ash fallout could hamper visibility.
Hazardous emissions of sulfur dioxide could cause people to suffer headaches, wheezing and eye, throat and lung irritation. Toxic gases also exacerbate symptoms for individuals with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema.
Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey had expected an explosive event to occur Wednesday afternoon because of a small eruption at the summit Tuesday followed by frequent earthquakes.
USGS geophysicist Jim Kauahikaua said there were 10 earthquakes each measuring at a magnitude of more than 3.0 since early Wednesday, which led scientists to expect the subsequent ash eruption.
Magno said the agency is prepared to set up shelters at the Keaau Community Center and sites in Hilo should the impact to the community from the eruption activity worsen.
Civil defense reported a magnitude 5.6 earthquake centered at the summit occurred at about 4:15 p.m. Wednesday. There was no tsunami threat to the island as the quake was not large enough.
Meanwhile, the fountaining fissure 8 at the Kilauea’s Lower East Rift Zone remains active and is spewing lava up to 185 feet high.
As of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the lava had overtaken approximately 8.6 square miles of land since the initial May 3 eruption.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said lava had overtaken Vacationland in a 24-hour period.
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