Hawaii’s governor has readied plans for a mass evacuation of the state’s Big Island-warning residents to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, as an eruption at Kilauea volcano strengthened. Officials say levels of toxic sulfur dioxide are rising, as is the threat of an explosion that could send lava, rocks and even large boulders into residential areas. Hundreds of residents continue to evacuate the area and more than two dozen homes have been destroyed so far. Geologists say the volcanic eruptions are expected to continue.
Concerns have been mounting since the Kilauea erupted May 3, sending 2,200-degree lava bursting through cracks into backyards in the Leilani Estates neighborhood, destroying 36 structures, including 26 homes. As the magma shifted underground, a magnitude-6.9 earthquake also rocked the Big Island. A new fissure spewing lava from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano formed in the southeast corner of the Big Island, raising anxieties as the state braces for potentially violent eruptions.
The new fissure, a crack in the ground allowing lava to pour out, appeared to be several hundred yards long and was producing spatter rising “many tens of feet into the air,” the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was spotted west of state Highway 132 and led state officials to call for some residents along Halekamahina Loop Road to leave their homes. Steam and lava spatter could be seen from the new fissure, officials said.
Residents have been warned about the possibility of an explosive eruption at the volcano’s Halema’uma’u Crater because of the withdrawal of lava from the Kilauea summit lake. “This could generate dangerous debris very near the crater and ashfalls up to tens of miles downwind,” the warning said. The danger comes from the lava level that is dropping inside the volcano. If it falls below the water table, water will pour onto the lava, generating steam that will likely explode from the summit in a shower of rocks, ash and sulfur dioxide gases. Boulders as big as refrigerators could be tossed a half-mile and ash plumes could soar as high as 20,000 feet spread over a 12-mile area, according to the Hawaii Civil Defense.
President Trump declared the Big Island a disaster area. The move will allow federal financial assistance for state and local governments as they repair roads, parks, schools and water pipes damaged by the eruption. The Big Island, also known as the island of Hawaii, has a population of about 190,000 people. The Hawaii National Guard has prepared to use ground convoys and even helicopters to pluck hundreds of residents out of danger if necessary. The Hawaii National Guard is prepared, with only 90 minutes’ notice, to rescue 2,000 people in troop-carrying vehicles and Blackhawk or Chinook helicopters
“We can move 226 people in one convoy. So we could move 226 at once with about an hour and a half notice, and we would drop them off somewhere. The vehicles could come back, and we would just do that round-robin,” Lt. Col. Shawn Tsuha said.