A new mandatory evacuation order on May 31 has residents of Hawaii on the move, prompted by eruptions from several fissures through the Leilani Estates neighborhood. County of Hawaii Mayor Harry Kim warned that residents who don't evacuate will risk being isolated and emergency responders may not be able to come to their aid. Residents in the Kapoho area were also advised to evacuate.
It’s the latest in a string of setbacks since Kilauea volcano on the island of Hawaii (Big Island) erupted on May 3, 2018. The eruption sent columns of ash plume and smoke into the sky that were visible from space and forced thousands of residents in surrounding neighborhoods to evacuate.
Kilauea is one of five volcanoes on Big Island and has been continuously erupting since 1983. Since the eruption weeks ago, there have been more than 2,250 earthquakes and 20 fissures — destroying dozens of homes and closing off entire sections of the island.
Another threat looms as the lava reached a major power plant overnight on May 27. The Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) uses steam from underground to power turbine generators that provide electricity, which is then sold to Hawaii Electric Light and powers the island. The plant's wells have been closed to prevent gases from seeping out and cooled down with cold water to balance out the steam's pressure.
"County, state, and federal partners have been collaborating closely to monitor the situation and work with PGV to ensure the safety of the surrounding communities. Ten of the eleven wells have been quenched," the Hawaii County Civil Defense said on its website. "Efforts are ongoing to make sure the site is secure and the community is kept safe."
Blue flames of methane gas have also been spotted in several areas on Big Island.
"When lava buries plants and shrubs, methane gas is produced as a byproduct of burning vegetation. Methane gas can seep into subsurface voids and explode when heated, or as shown in this video, emerge from cracks in the ground several feet away from the lava. When ignited, the methane produces a blue flame," the U.S. Geological Survey said online.
No signs of stopping
A second eruption more powerful than the first occurred on May 17 and sent ash 30,000 feet into the air, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The island is currently under a "red alert" aviation advisory, a warning to pilots of the danger of flying close to the toxic sulfur dioxide plumes.
After several more explosive eruptions, the lava made its way to the Pacific Ocean on May 19, creating a new hazard for residents. When lava mixes with water, it turns into "laze" (lava and haze), which sends volcanic gas and hydrochloric acid into the air. The fumes cause lung, eye and skin irritation and can be lethal. Officials have warned people to stay indoors.
The USGS also warned people about ballistic projectiles shooting out from the volcano. "At any time, activity may again become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles very near the vent," the agency's website stated. One man was seriously injured when a projectile hit him in the leg, reports CNN. It's the first serious injury reported since the initial eruption.
Whether looking at the smoke and lava from the sky or the ground, it's apparent from these images that the volcano has left a wide path of destruction. It shows no signs of slowing down.
Editor's note: This photo blog has been updated since it was originally published in May 2018.