It’s been four weeks since the first eruptions from the Kilauea volcano rocked Hawaii’s Big Island, and the lava is as relentless as ever.
Since the first eruption occurred in the Leilani Estates subdivision on the evening of Thursday, May 3, emergency officials believe nearly 2,500 residents have been forced to evacuate as lava, flowing from numerous volcanic fissures, consumes everything in its path.
Whatever residents were left in the neighborhood were ordered out on Thursday by Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim.
"Persons in violation of this order are subject to arrest and will be liable for any costs associated with rescue operations in the mandatory evacuation area," the county said on its website.
At least 75 structures have been destroyed, according to Hawaii Civil Defense spokesman Talmadge Magno. About 20 of those burned down earlier this week.
And the eruptions are still going strong. Fissure 8 was the most active overnight, according to an update from the US Geological Survey, sending lava fountains as high as 250 feet into the air.
As of 6:15 a.m., the lava flow was about 2 miles west of the Four Corners intersection, said USGS volcanologist Jessica Ball.
"We should also note that cellphone towers and regular landlines have been heavily damaged in the area, and so there may be reduce service," said USGS volcanologist Jessica Ball.
Lava from Fissure 8 managed to advance 50 yards in an hour, according to a tweet from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Ash is still erupting from Kilauea’s summit, Ball added, in addition to seismic activity and gas output.
On Wednesday, Fissure 8 fueled a river of lava that traveled almost a half-mile in 80 minutes, according to the Civil Defense Agency. The advancing lava prompted additional evacuations amid fears that residents could become trapped on a corner on the Big Island’s eastern side.
The pace eventually slowed to about 3 to 4 yards a minute, but Fissure 8 continued to be very active. That afternoon, it sent fountains of lava as high as 200 feet, according to the USGS.
Lava is nearing Kapoho
Lava continued to advance toward Kapoho, an unincorporated community near the eastern coast, on Thursday morning.
"Rather than shock and surprise it was more of a resolve that, OK, it’s come to us now," Steven Neill, a Kapoho evacuee, told CNN affiliate KGMB/KHNL on Wednesday. "I’ve got close friends in Leilani, which we helped evacuate a couple weeks ago, and now it’s our turn."
Earlier in the week, Mayor Kim warned residents that first responders would not go door-to-door after final evacuation orders were issued. Those who choose to ignore the orders will have to fend for themselves, Kim said.
Besides the lava, there’s also the danger of "vog," or volcanic smog. Vog is a haze created when sulfur dioxide gas and other volcanic pollutants mix with moisture and dust.
In addition to volcanic particles that can cause eye, skin and respiratory irritation, residents were warned to be on the lookout for sharp, thin strands of volcanic glass fibers known as "Pele’s hair," a reference to the Hawaiian goddess of fire. The Civil Defense Agency warned it could cause injury if it got in residents’ eyes or was breathed in.
Officials are trying to clear an evacuation route
On Wednesday the National Park Service and the Hawaii Department of Transportation announced they were working to cut through a large section of solidified lava flow from 2016 and 2017, in an effort to open a potential evacuation route in case Highway 130 becomes impassable.
The road they’re working to uncover is known as Chain of Craters-Kalapana Road, and has been covered by lava for 41 years out of the 53 years it has existed, the release said.
Video and images shared by the agencies showed massive yellow bulldozers breaking up the black rock, which is 20 to 30 feet thick in some spots. Uncovering the 8 mile stretch could take up to two weeks, the news release added.
The ongoing eruptions have also caused power outages, according to Hawaii Electric Light. The energy provider reported earlier this week that lava has damaged more than 400 poles, prompting power outages in areas throughout lower Puna, including Kapoho, Lanipuna Gardens and Leilani Estates.
It could be a while before power returns. Hawaii Electric Light said in a news release that it wouldn’t begin working to restore power until it was safe for workers to enter the areas to do a damage assessment. Exact timing depends on the ongoing lava activity.