The eruption of the Mount Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island has continued to progress, with massive lava flows pouring out of what is now believed to be at least 10 fissures in the nearby residential neighborhood of Leilani Estates, the Washington Post reported.
At least two of the volcanic fissures are believed to have opened as late as Saturday night, the Post wrote, though some of the ones that opened first are no longer contributing to the magma flows.
Kilauea is a shield volcano composed mostly of basalt, which makes for fluid lava that rises from rather than violently erupts from the surrounding rock; the result can be a lot of lava, but massive explosions at the peak are rare and usually result from the introduction of liquid water that flashes into steam. The mountain has been continually erupting for over 30 years, the Post added, though usually its efforts are limited to filling Puu Oo crater with a lava lake. (That lake is now nearly empty after a vent collapse sent the lava instead flowing towards the newly opened fissues.)
“As the eruption progresses, there will become a preferred pathway for the magma to go through,” US Geological Survey (USGS) volcanologist Wendy Stovall told the Post. “Some of the outer vents along this fissure line will start to close up and congeal because the lava is going to essentially harden.”
That unfortunately means that the newer fissures are spraying lava at even higher pressure, Stovall added, with the USGS estimating some were shooting molten rock as high as 230 feet (70 meters) in the air—though it is possible they could eventually shoot as high as 1,000 feet (305 meters). The fissures have been accompanied by hundreds of small earthquakes, with the largest being a 6.9 magnitude quake that rocked the entire Big Island on Friday, the largest there since 1975.
According to an assessment posted to the USGS website late Saturday local time, “Seismicity and deformation are consistent with continued accumulation of magma within the rift zone.”
Hawaii County Civil Defense said 21 homes have been engulfed in flames and destroyed. According to USA Today, approximately 1,700 people have been evacuated from the immediate area. Some are refusing to evacuate, with resident Greg Chunn telling the paper, “How can I walk away from this? It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
“I won’t leave until it’s an inch from my house,” fellow holdout Greg Webber added. “I’ve been through this a million times.”
But almost as big a problem as the lava flows are clouds of sulfur dioxide gas, which the Post reported can be thick and toxic enough to kill people and prevent first responders from reaching homes. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the gas’s direction can quickly change based on wind conditions and many people reportedly lack the gas masks that would be needed if it flooded their homes.
According to the L.A. Times, other hazards have included explosions believed to be linked to leftover propane tanks or trapped methane gas, as well as downed power lines. The lava flow has continued to flow farther, Stovall told the Times, indicating “the magma supply is still present and shows signs of continuing.”
Update 8:15pm ET: This jaw-dropping footage courtesy of ABC News shows the extent of the fissure eruption on Sunday morning, along with some of the homes unfortunately in the path of the lava flows on fire:
Update 9:00 pm ET: This article has been updated with more recent data on the number of homes destroyed as a result of the lava flows, per Hawaii County Civil Defense.