By Jolyn Rosa
HONOLULU (Reuters) – Molten rock from several lava-spewing fissures opened by Kilauea Volcano crept towards clusters of homes and vacation rentals on the eastern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island on Wednesday, as authorities ushered residents from the area as a precaution.
Evacuation of the Vacationland development and adjacent Kapoho community, rebuilt after a destructive eruption of Kilauea in 1960, came on the 28th day of what geologists rank as one of the biggest upheavals in a century from one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
The Hawaii County Civil Defense agency issued the advisory as lava flows picked up speed late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday and threatened to cut off a key traffic route into the seaside area on the far eastern flank of the volcano.
“Residents in the Kapoho area, including Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland, are advised to evacuate,” the agency said in a morning bulletin. “You are at risk of being isolated due to possible lava inundation of Beach Road.”
On Tuesday, a lava stream crossed a larger east-west route, Highway 132, as it advanced towards Kapoho. A separate flow of red-hot molten rock was headed in the direction of the Vacationland Hawaii community to the south.
Civil defence officials also cited the problem of widespread communication outages in the area due to downed power and phone lines, reinforcing the decision to proceed with evacuation plans immediately rather than wait for a potential emergency.
Residents of the area, part of the Island of Hawaii’s Puna district, were urged to stay tuned to local radio stations for further updates.
The numbers of people and homes affected by the evacuation were not immediately known. They join some 2,000 residents displaced due to lava flows and toxic sulphur dioxide gas emissions at the outset of the eruption nearly four weeks ago farther west, in and around the Leilani Estates community.
Kilauea’s main crater at the volcano’s summit has continued to periodically belch ash high up into the sky. But National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Birchard told reporters during a conference call that most of the ash was blowing out to sea on the prevailing trade winds, then dissipating quickly.
Nevertheless, some ash and fumes have been spouted high enough into the atmosphere to be carried far over the Pacific Ocean, with observers in the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Guam detecting traces of vog – a hazy mix of sulphur dioxide, aerosols, moisture and fine particles, Birchard said.
Kilauea rumbled back to life on May 3 as it began extruding lava and toxic gases through a series of cracks in the ground on its eastern flank, marking the latest phase of an eruption cycle that has continued nearly nonstop for 35 years.
The occurrence of new lava vents, or fissures, now numbering about two dozen, have been accompanied by flurries of earthquakes and intermittent eruptions from the summit crater. More than 40 homes and other structures have been consumed by lava flows since then.
(Reporting by Jolyn Rosa; Additonal reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)