Crawling lava burns Hawaiian homes as locals flee

HAWAII'S Kilauea volcano is wreaking havoc on the Big Island, spewing lava and hazardous fumes in ways locals have never seen before.

Evacuation orders remain in place for hundreds of residents of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens areas in the eastern part of Hawaii's Big Island.

Hawaii's Civil Defense Agency, in its latest update, said 26 homes have been destroyed by lava oozing up from fissures in the ground.

Aerial footage showed orange streams of lava snaking through the Leilani Estates neighbourhood, covering streets and igniting small fires.

Harrowing footage of the moment lava spewed on to local streets on Hawaii's Big Island also emerged.

The footage, which was captured on a dash cam by WXChasing and posted on Facebook, shows how a wall of lava spewed onto a street before destroying a parked Ford Mustang.

Hawaii officials say the decimated homes are in the Leilani Estates residential subdivision, where molten rock, toxic gas and steam have been bursting through openings in the ground created by the volcano.

Officials updated the number of lost homes after an aerial survey of the subdivision.

"That number could change," Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder said.

Flames could be seen from the red coals as smoke and steam billowed. Residents have been warned to 'go now' before more homes are destroyed.

"Be prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice," the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said in an alert on its website.

Residents of where lava oozed through cracks in the ground have been allowed to return for a second day to briefly check on their property.

They have permission to return to the Leilani Estates subdivision between 7am and 6pm local time every day until further notice.

Officials say residents must be prepared to leave on very short notice. As of Monday lava has destroyed 35 structures.

Acting Hawaii County Mayor Wil Okabe says it's difficult to immediately tell from aerial surveys how many are homes and how many are other uninhabited structures.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokeswoman Janet Babb says scientists know of 10 fissures that have opened up. The observatory says active emission of lava and spatter at the fissures was minimal overnight.

But scientists warn it's just a pause in activity.

But residents were warned to be ready to flee at a moment's notice. "Because of unstable conditions that involve toxic gas, earthquakes and lava activities, lines of safety can change at any time," the Civil Defense Agency said.

"The high levels of sulfur dioxide are a threat to all who become exposed," it said.

As lava crawled down Leilani Road in a hissing, popping mass, Cheryl Griffith stood in its path and placed a plant in a crack in the ground as an offering to the Native Hawaiian volcano goddess, Pele.


Griffith lives in Leilani Estates, a subdivision on the Big Island where molten rock from the Kilauea volcano has burst through the ground. But the 61-year-old did not leave.

"I love this place, and I've been around the volcano for a while," Griffith said.

"I'm just not one to rush off."

For many people outside Hawaii, it's hard to understand why anyone would risk living near an active volcano with such destructive power. But the slopes of Kilauea offer affordable land and a lush rural setting that attract a hardy breed of independent Hawaiian.

The landscape contrasts sharply with the state's more expensive real estate on Oahu and Maui, and the bustling capital of Honolulu.

Among those who lost their homes was Amber Makuakane.

A GoFundMe page was set up to raise money for the 37-year-old primary school teacher and single mother of two young children.

As of Monday morning, more than $US29,000 ($A38,000) had been raised for Makuakane, whose parents also live in the Leilani Estates area and have also been forced to flee their home.

Makuakane thanked the donors on the page saying "my heart is full of gratitude for each and everyone of you."

"It is true that the spirit of ALOHA is alive and well," she said.

Kilauea, which rises to 1247 metres, began erupting Thursday afternoon.

A magnitude 5 earthquake under Kilauea's south flank preceded an initial eruption and there have been several severe aftershocks since then.

The subdivision lies within the Puna District, a region of mostly unpaved roads of volcanic rock about a 30-minute drive from the coastal town of Hilo. Everyone in the district lives on the volcano.

The people here are largely self-sufficient and understand the risks of their location. Many cannot get homeowner's insurance.

Griffith said that is the hardest part of this lifestyle - they won't be able to recoup losses. Moments later, an explosion came from a nearby burning house. Puna has thick jungle as well as dark fields of lava rock from past eruptions. The gently sloping volcano dips from its summit to Puna's white sand beaches and jagged sea cliffs.

The region has macadamia nut farms and other agriculture along with multimillion-dollar homes with manicured lawns. Other houses are modest, sitting on small lots with old cars and trucks scattered about.

Homeowners use rainwater-catch tanks and cesspools or septic tanks. Many rely on solar power, and some live entirely off the electrical grid.

Sam Knox, 65, who was born in Hawaii and now lives just a few hundred feet from a volcanic fissure, said he decided not to leave, despite the nearby explosions and the lava being hurled into the sky and flowing across his neighbor's property.

"It was roaring sky high. It was incredible. ... Rocks were flying out of the ground," he said. Much of the area filled with lava in just four hours. Kilauea (pronounced kill-ah-WAY'-ah) is one of the world's most active volcanoes and has been erupting continuously since 1983. There's no indication when this particular lava flow might stop or how far it might spread. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey expect the flow to continue until more magma drains from the system.

Knox has some belongings packed in case he has to make a fast escape. "I decided to stay because I wanted to experience this in my life," he said. "I'm ready to actually evacuate, but if I don't have to evacuate, I'm just going to keep staying here because I don't have no other home to go to."

A quake Friday was measured at magnitude 6.9, the most powerful to hit the islands since 1975.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said satellites had detected a gradual sinking of ground around the volcano summit in the two weeks before the first quake.

Kilauea - which according to Hawaiian folklore is home to Pele, the volcano goddess - saw nearly continuous activity during the 19th century.

It is one of five currently active volcanoes on the archipelago's Big Island.

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