(AP) —Nearly 1,500 residents were ordered to evacuate from their volcano-side homes after the Big Island’s Kilauea volcano erupted, sending molten lava to chew its way through forest land and bubble up on paved streets.
Hawaii County said steam and lava poured out of a crack in Leilani Estates, which is near the town of Pahoa on the Big Island.
Footage shown on local television showed lava spurting into the sky from a crack in a road.
County, state and federal officials had been warning residents all week that they should be prepared to evacuate, as an eruption would give little warning.
In this photo released by U.S. Geological Survey, lava is shown burning in Leilani Estates subdivision near the town of Pahoa on Thursday.
The county has ordered evacuations for all of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions.
Nearby community centers have opened for shelter.
Scientists said areas downslope of the erupting vent were at risk of being covered by lava. Leilani Estates appeared to be at greatest risk, but scientists said new vents and outbreaks could occur and it’s not possible to say where.
Officials said there is no way to predict how long the eruption will continue.
Asta Miklius, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory, told The Associated Press that there is quite a bit of magma in the volcano’s system.
“It won’t be just an hours-long eruption probably, but how long it will last will depend on whether the summit magma reservoir gets involved,” she said.
The eruption comes after days of earthquakes rattled the area’s Puna district. A nearby school was closed due to the ongoing seismic activity and several roadways cracked under the strain of the constant temblors.
The Puu Oo crater floor began to collapse Monday, triggering a series of earthquakes and pushing the lava into new underground chambers.
A Hawaii County map of the risk area.
The collapse caused magma to push more than 10 miles downslope toward the populated southeast coastline of the island.
USGS geologist Janet Babb said the magma crossed under Highway 130, which leads to a popular volcano access point, on Tuesday night.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency closed the area to visitors on Tuesday and ordered private tour companies to stop taking people into the region.
Also in the process of shutting down was the Puna Geothermal Venture power plant, which generates 38 megawatts, on average, for the island’s power grid. It’s the third largest power producer on the island. Highway Electric Light, which runs the power grid, has a total firm power capacity of 281.3 megawatts.
In this photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, red ash rises from the Puu Oo vent on Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano after a magnitude-5.0 earthquake struck the Big Island on Thursday.
Most of Kilauea’s activity has been nonexplosive, but a 1924 eruption spewed ash and 10-ton (9-metric ton) rocks into the sky, leaving one man dead.
Puu Oo’s 1983 eruption resulted in lava fountains soaring over 1,500 feet high. In the decades since, the lava flow has buried dozens of square miles of land and destroyed many homes.
Leilani Estates was founded in 1964, one of many Lower Puna subdivisions that was laid out for land speculation in that decade. It’s a “substandard subdivision,” meaning it has paved, privately maintained roads and electricity, but its residents must rely on rainwater catchment.
Its remoteness and its proximity to Kilauea’s east rift zone makes its 1-acre lots relatively affordable: The flip side for residents is the gamble that lava won’t cover their homes or cut them off in their lifetimes.
This is far from the first time the area has faced such a crisis. Lava flows entered the sea at Kapoho, adjacent to the land that would become Leilani, in 1955. From 1983 to 2008, lava wiped out the nearby Royal Gardens subdivision and approximately 200 homes. With Royal Gardens’ demise, Leilani Estates became the largest inhabited subdivision below Pahoa.
Civil Beat columnist Alan McNarie contributed to this report.
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