Hawaii braces for long upheaval as erupting Kilauea boils
Hundreds of anxious residents on the Big Island of Hawaii hunkered down Saturday for what could be weeks or months of upheaval as the dangers from an erupting Kilauea volcano continued to grow.
Lava spurted from volcanic vents, toxic gas filled the air and strong earthquakes – including a magnitude 6.9 temblor on Friday – rocked an already jittery population.
The trifecta of natural threats forced the evacuation of more than 1,700 people from communities near the lava and prompted the closure of parks, college campuses and a section of the main road through the area on the Big Island’s southern tip.
Two structures have burned, and thousands of customers briefly lost power from one of the larger quakes.
Tina Neal, the scientist in charge of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, warned distressed residents at a community meeting late Friday that eruptions could last longer than the ones from earlier this week, and earthquakes and aftershocks could continue for days, even weeks.
Gary McMillan said his home is about 3,000 feet from one of the fissures that is spewing lava and gas into Leilani Estates. He has remote cameras set up in his home and says that as of now his home is still intact.
He’s living out of his van with his wife at the nearby community center and constantly thinks about the things they were forced to leave behind – but understands why authorities are keeping residents out.
“I was a critical care nurse for 37 years, so I understand the health implications and the dangers involved,” McMillan said.
The lava lake at Kilauea’s summit crater dropped significantly, suggesting the magma was moving eastward toward Puna, a mostly rural district of forests, papaya farms and lava fields left by past eruptions.
Officials warned of the dangers of spattering hot rock and high levels of sulfuric gas that could threaten the elderly and people with breathing problems.
State Sen. Russell Ruderman said he’s experienced many earthquakes, but the magnitude-5.4 temblor that hit first “scared the heck out of me.” Merchandise fell off the shelves in a natural food store he owns.
Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983 and is one of five volcanoes that make up the Big Island.