Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupts for first time in nearly a year

(Reuters) -Hawaii’s Kīlauea volcano, in its first eruption in nearly a year, was filling the crater at its summit with hot red lava and clouding the skies with volcanic smog on Thursday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The latest eruption of Hawaii’s youngest and most active volcano began on Wednesday afternoon.

While the lava presented no immediate threat to populated areas, residents who live downwind of Kīlauea were warned of possible exposure to sulfur dioxide and other volcanic gases that can irritate the respiratory system.

The eruption was taking place within the confines of Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park, which remained open to visitors who wished to observe the lava’s glow and the pluming smoke from a safe distance.

Kīlauea’s last eruption took place in December 2020, when a water-filled lake that had formed at the crater evaporated, replaced by a lava lake.

Two years before that, a string of earthquakes and a major eruption led to the destruction of hundreds of homes and businesses as lava flowed down to the ocean over a period of several months, hardening into new land.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Giles Elgood and Mark Porter)

Hawaii volcano eruption slows to virtual halt after more than three months

FILE PHOTO: Lava erupts in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – The destructive lava eruption at the foot of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii has slowed to a virtual halt in recent days for the first time in over three months, geologists said on Monday, although it was too soon to tell what might happen next.

The lone volcanic fissure that was still active last week has dwindled from a fountain of molten rock to a bubbling pond of lava no longer spilling out of the blackened cone surrounding it, said Tina Neal, chief scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Levels of sulfur dioxide gas vented from the fissure, located on the lower east flank of Kilauea, about 25 miles (40 km) from its summit crater, have also dropped dramatically, she said.

The subdued activity there coincided with another major collapse in the outer wall of the summit crater last Thursday, followed by a final flurry of earthquakes before the peak of the volcano grew still.

“The system appears to have almost shut down completely over the course of a couple of days,” Neal told reporters on a conference call. She said it was “all consistent with something turning off the spigot to the surface.”

At this point, the volcanic reservoir at the bottom of the summit crater appeared “significantly drained” of magma – the term for molten rock before it erupts – that was feeding the lava vents downslope at the surface.

At the height of Kilauea’s current eruption, which began on May 3, a total of two dozen fissures had opened in the ground at the foot of the volcano, in an area scientists call the lower east rift zone. But only one vent, dubbed Fissure 8, was still active last week.

It was a river of lava from Fissure 8 that had crept eastward to the ocean, engulfing two seaside housing developments before pouring into the Pacific. Hundreds more dwellings have been swallowed closer to the eruption site.

FILE PHOTO: Lava fragments falling from lava fountains at fissure 8 are building a cinder-and-spatter cone around the erupting vent, with the bulk of the fragments falling on the downwind side of the cone as it continues to feed a channelized lava flow that reaches the ocean at Kapoho during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S. June 11, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: Lava fragments falling from lava fountains at fissure 8 are building a cinder-and-spatter cone around the erupting vent, with the bulk of the fragments falling on the downwind side of the cone as it continues to feed a channelized lava flow that reaches the ocean at Kapoho during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S. June 11, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

The property losses marked the most destructive eruption event of Kilauea or any other volcano in Hawaii’s recorded history.

Neal said it remains to be seen whether the reduced flow at Fissure 8 will turn out to be a brief pause or an extended lull, or whether other vents will reactivate. A similar 88-day eruption in the lower east rift zone in 1955 was punctuated by one pause of five days and one lasting 16 days, Neal said.

Neal said scientists would be surprised if the summit crater produced any new major eruptions in the near future.

The current shift in volcanic activity happened as Hurricane Hector churned across the Pacific toward Hawaii, with forecasters predicting it would skirt past the southern coast of the Big Island on Wednesday.

Neal said the storm would have no effect on the volcano, except for the possibility of large steam clouds producing “white-out” conditions in areas where heavy rain falls on top of molten lava that has yet to thoroughly cool.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Tait)

Geologists eye Hawaii volcano for signs eruption may be easing

FILE PHOTO: Lava fragments falling from lava fountains at fissure 8 are building a cinder-and-spatter cone around the erupting vent, with the bulk of the fragments falling on the downwind side of the cone as it continues to feed a channelized lava flow that reaches the ocean at Kapoho during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S. June 11, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Geologists are keeping a close eye on the crater of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano and a lava-spouting cone on its flank for possible signs a nearly three-month eruption may be slowing.

Up until Thursday, Kilauea had not had an explosion in 53 hours, the longest break in such activity since May, government geologists said on the last in a series of regularly scheduled news briefings since the eruption began on May 3.

Down Kilauea’s east side, a lava channel flowing from its fissure 8 cone has turned sluggish and its level has dropped, said U.S. Geological Survey geologist Janet Babb.

Could the lava eruption in the southeast corner of Hawaii’s Big Island be easing after destroying over 700 houses and forcing thousands to flee their homes?

“That really is the million-dollar question right now,” said Babb. “We’re watching this closely. I think it all depends what we see after the next collapse (explosion) event.”

Right on cue, a collapse explosion came during the news briefing, kicking out the equivalent energy of a 5.4 magnitude earthquake.

It was the 58th such event in the current eruption cycle as magma steadily drains from the volcano’s summit lava reservoir, causing its crater to collapse.

The USGS released a report last week saying the eruption could last months or years and a main hazard was a possible collapse of fissure 8, or a blockage or breach in its lava channel, that could send some or all lava in a new direction.

Geologist Rick Hazlett of the University of Hawaii at Hilo said material breaking off the cone had so far been flushed down the channel in “lava bergs.”

He did not see any more structures in danger, other than the Pohoiki boat landing, which is 500 feet (152 meters) from the lava.

“We’re not very worried at the moment about the loss of further facilities,” said Hazlett. “This can be maintained for many months without the risks of a major diversion.”

As to whether crater explosions are winding down, Babb said it was too early to say.

“We need to wait and watch and see how the next collapses occur, to see if this interval between collapses is indeed increasing, or if this was an anomaly,” she said.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler)

Hawaii tours face new limits after ‘lava bomb’ injuries

A hole, punched through the roof of a tourist boat, is seen, after lava from the Mount Kilauea volcano exploded in the sea off Kapoho, Hawaii, U.S. July 16, 2018. Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources/Handout via REUTERS

By Jolyn Rosa

HONOLULU (Reuters) – Hawaii lava tour boats faced tighter restrictions on Tuesday after 23 passengers were injured by a volcanic explosion, as authorities investigated whether a vessel hit by “lava bombs” went too close to molten rock oozing into the Ocean.

The U.S. Coast Guard now requires boat captains to stay at least 300 meters (yards) from lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Up until Monday’s injuries, the Coast Guard had set a limit of 50 meters, safety permitting, for experienced lava boat operators such as Shane Turpin, captain of the boat caught in Monday’s explosion caused by lava mixing with seawater.

An investigation is under way on whether Turpin was outside the restricted area at the time of the blast, said U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman Amanda Levasseur.

“Once we get the confirmation on that it will be released,” she said by phone.

Turpin, owner of Lava Ocean Tours, said he was well outside the zone at the time of the blast.

“We were headed east away from the flows,” Turpin said in a text message. “My recollection is we were around 200 meters from the flow.”

A video posted on Facebook by Will Bryan, a passenger aboard Turpin’s boat the “Hot Spot”, shows the blast and the sound of screaming passengers as rocks rain down on the boat.

“We didn’t expect to be that close,” said Bryan in a Facebook message to Reuters, adding that he suffered a burn and his girlfriend got ash in her eye.

The injuries were the first on a tour boat from flying lava in recent times, according to Levasseur.

Lava Ocean Tours was set to take tourists out on the sunrise trip at 4 a.m., as usual, on Tuesday, although the “Hot Spot” was taken out of service after a basketball-size “lava bomb” tore a hole through its roof, a company saleswoman said.

Asked if the company had seen cancellations, she said “not really”.

Kalapana Cultural Tours, which competes with Turpin’s company, reported normal boat services and no cancellations.

Ikaika Marzo, president of Kalapana Cultural Tours, witnessed Monday’s explosion from a nearby tour boat.

“We try to make things safe for people when we take them out,” Marzo said in a Facebook post.

Hawaii’s tourist agency reassured visitors it was safe to see Kilauea and its lava, the Big Island’s top attractions.

“Today’s unfortunate event is a good reminder about the risks involved with observing a natural wonder like this one and the reason officials are continuously monitoring the eruption to ensure the public is kept at safe distances on land, in the air and while at sea,” Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said in a statement.

Salespeople for helicopter lava tour companies Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and Paradise Helicopters said it was business as usual on Tuesday and they had seen no cancellations.

(Additional reporting and writing by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Alison Williams)

Scientists defy ‘force of nature’ to unlock secrets of Hawaii volcano

A USGS geologist making observations of the fissure 8 lava channel at sunset is pictured in this July 3, 2018 fisheye lens handout photograph near the Kilauea volcano eruption in Hawaii, U.S. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

By Terray Sylvester and Jolyn Rosa

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Dressed in heavy cotton, a helmet and respirator, Jessica Ball worked the night shift monitoring “fissure 8,” which has been spewing fountains of lava as high as a 15-story building from a slope on Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano.

The lava poured into a channel oozing toward the Pacific Ocean several miles away. In the eerie orange nightscape in the abandoned community of Leilani Estates, it looked like it was flowing toward the scientist, but that was an optical illusion, Ball said.

Kelly Wooten, a geologist and volcanologist at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) is downloading radiometer data on rim of Halema‘uma‘u Crater in Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, U.S., December 19, 2008. Picture taken on December 19, 2008. Courtesy USGS/Handout via REUTERS

Kelly Wooten, a geologist and volcanologist at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) is downloading radiometer data on rim of Halema‘uma‘u Crater in Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, U.S., December 19, 2008. Picture taken on December 19, 2008. Courtesy USGS/Handout via REUTERS

“The volcano is doing what it wants to. … We’re reminded what it’s like to deal with the force of nature,” said Ball, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Scientists have been in the field measuring the eruptions 24 hours a day, seven days a week since Kilauea first exploded more than two months ago. They are a mix of USGS staff, University of Hawaii researchers and trained volunteers working six-to-eight-hour shifts in teams of two to five.

They avoid synthetics because they melt in the intense heat and wear gloves to protect their hands from sharp volcanic rock and glass. Helmets protect against falling lava stones, and respirators ward off sulfur gases.

This is not a job for the faint hearted. Geologists have died studying active volcanoes. David Alexander Johnston, a USGS volcanologist was killed by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. In 1991, American volcanologist Harry Glicken and his French colleagues Katia and Maurice Krafft were killed while conducting avalanche research on Mount Unzen in Japan.

Ball, a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, located in upstate New York near the Canadian border, compared Kilauea’s eruptions to Niagara Falls.

“It gives you the same feeling of power and force,” she said.

A geologist is collecting sample of molten lava from 2011 Kamoamoa eruption, at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, U.S., March 6, 2011. Picture taken on March 6, 2011. Courtesy USGS/Handout via REUTERS

A geologist is collecting sample of molten lava from 2011 Kamoamoa eruption, at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, U.S., March 6, 2011. Picture taken on March 6, 2011. Courtesy USGS/Handout via REUTERS

WORTH THE RISKS

Kilauea, which has been erupting almost continuously since 1983, is one of the world’s most closely monitored volcanoes, largely from the now-abandoned Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at the summit. But the latest eruption is one of Kilauea’s biggest and could prove to be a bonanza for scientists.

Ball and the USGS teams are studying how the magma – molten rock from the earth’s crust – tracks through a network of tubes under the volcano in what is known as the “Lower East Rift Zone,” before ripping open ground fissures and spouting fountains of lava.

They are trying to discover what warning signs may exist for future eruptions to better protect the Big Island’s communities, she said.

Fissure 8 is one of 22 around Kilauea that have destroyed over 1,000 structures and forced 2,000 people to evacuate. They are what make this volcanic eruption a rare event, Ball said.

“They’re common for Kilauea on a geologic time scale, but in a human time scale it’s sort of a career event,” she said.

Meanwhile, the summit is erupting almost every day with steam or ash, said Janet Snyder, spokeswoman for the County of Hawaii, where Kilauea is located.

Scientists had thought the steam explosions resulted from lava at the summit dropping down the volcano’s throat into groundwater. This was based on Kilauea’s 1924 eruption, to which the current one is most often compared.

But the explosions this time have released lots of sulfur dioxide gas, which means magma is involved, said Michael Poland, scientist-in-charge at Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, one of many volcanologists seconded to Kilauea.

“So we have already made a conceptual leap, leading us to believe it was different from what we had understood,” he said.

Poland and other scientists pulled equipment and archives out of the abandoned observatory at the volcano summit after hundreds of small eruption-induced quakes damaged the structure, and have decamped to the University of Hawaii in Hilo on the Big Island.

The archives included photos, seismic records and samples, some 100 or more years old, Poland said. “These materials are invaluable to someone who says, ‘I have this new idea, and I want to test it using past data.'”Now the second longest Kilauea eruption on record, surpassed only by one in 1955, this eruption offers far better research opportunities than previous events, Ball said.

“We’ve got much better instruments and we’ve got longer to collect the data,” she said.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester and Jolyn Rosa; writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Trump approves disaster aid for Hawaii’s volcano-stricken Big Island

Journalists and National Guard soldiers watch as lava erupts in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Jolyn Rosa

HONOLULU (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday approved federal emergency housing aid and other relief for victims of the six-week-old Kilauea Volcano eruption on Hawaii’s Big Island, where hundreds of homes have been destroyed, state officials said.

The approval came a day after Governor David Ige formally requested assistance for an estimated 2,800 residents who have lost their homes to lava flows or were forced from their dwellings under evacuation orders since Kilauea rumbled back to life on May 3.

Lava destroys homes in the Kapoho area, east of Pahoa, during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018.  REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Lava destroys homes in the Kapoho area, east of Pahoa, during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim has said that rivers of molten rock spewed from volcanic fissures at the foot of Kilauea have engulfed roughly 600 homes. The governor’s office put the number of residences destroyed at 455.

Either tally marks the greatest number of homes claimed over such a short period by Kilauea – or by any other volcano in Hawaii’s modern history – far surpassing the 215 structures consumed by lava in an earlier eruption cycle that began in 1983 and continued nearly nonstop for three decades, experts say.

The latest volcanic eruption also stands as the most destructive in the United States since at least the cataclysmic 1980 explosion of Mount St. Helens in Washington state that reduced hundreds of square miles to wasteland.

The geographical footprint of Kilauea’s current upheaval is much smaller, covering nearly 6,000 acres, or just over 9 square miles (2,400 hectares) of the Big Island in lava, an area roughly seven times Central Park in Manhattan.

No specific sum of money was sought by the governor for federal disaster aid, and no dollar figure was attached to the package Trump approved under the Individuals and Households Program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Lava erupts in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Lava erupts in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper reported this week that eligible homeowners and renters could get up to $34,000 each.

The program provides grants to displaced residents to secure temporary housing while their homes are repaired or rebuilt. Assistance can also be obtained for repair and replacement costs.

In addition to housing assistance, Trump approved relief from several other FEMA programs, including crisis counseling, unemployment benefits and legal aid.

Trump previously issued a major disaster declaration weeks ago authorizing money from FEMA public assistance grants for the County of Hawaii, the island’s local governing authority.

Residents will be able to register for assistance at a disaster recovery center that will open on Friday at the Kea‘au High School Gymnasium. The center will be jointly operated by Hawaii County, the State of Hawaii and FEMA.

NO END IN SIGHT

His expansion of FEMA assistance came as the Kilauea eruption entered its 43rd day on Thursday.

In addition to lava and toxic sulfur dioxide gas spewing from about two-dozen fissures on the eastern flank of the volcano, daily periodic explosions of ash from the crater at Kilauea’s summit have created a nuisance and health hazard to communities downwind.

Volcanic smog, or vog, carried aloft by the winds has hampered air quality for parts of the island and been detected as far away as the western Pacific island of Guam.

The volcanic activity at Kilauea’s summit has also triggered thousands of mostly small-scale earthquakes that have added to the jitters of residents living nearby and damaged facilities at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the island’s biggest attraction. Most of the park remains closed.

A report from the governor accompanying his request for federal aid documented the larger toll taken on residents of the island’s volcano-stricken Puna district, including disruption of power, communications and drinking water infrastructure.

It cited an uptick in reports of residents “experiencing acute mental health effects of fear, anxiety and stress” as the crisis drags on with no end in sight.

With about one-fifth of Puna’s population displaced by the eruption, the disaster has created a “housing crisis in a rental market that was already severely constrained,” the report said.

In other economic impacts, the report cited losses of nearly $37 million in vacation rentals and $14 million from agriculture, including half of the state’s entire cut-flower industry and 80 percent of its papaya crop.

(Additonal reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles)

Minor explosion at Hawaii volcano spews more ash into the air

FILE PHOTO: Journalists and National Guard soldiers watch as lava erupts in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

(Reuters) – Another small explosion at the summit of Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano shot more ash high into the atmosphere, putting communities in the southern part of the Big Island at risk, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.

The volcano, which has been erupting since early May, has sent occasional columns of ash and volcanic gas into the atmosphere at between 10,000 (3,050 meters) and 30,000 feet (9,145 meters) above sea level, it said.

On Sunday, another explosion spewed ash from the volcano, creating a driving hazard for roads on parts of the Big Island.

A fissure in the volcano spewed molten rock 160 feet (49 meters) on Tuesday, slightly lower than the 180 feet (55 meters) it reached from Saturday night into Sunday, pushing a steady flow of lava into the ocean, the USGS said.

A representative for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The eruption, which entered its 40th day on Tuesday, stands as the most destructive in the United States since at least the violent 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state that reduced hundreds of square miles to wasteland and killed nearly 60 people, according to geologist Scott Rowland, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The Hawaii eruption has caused no casualties, but lava flows have swallowed about 600 homes since May 3, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said last week.

Vacationland, a private development believed to comprise about 160 homes, was completely erased, and at least 330 houses were devoured by lava at Kapoho Beach Lots, Kim said.

On Saturday, hundreds of construction workers and volunteers, including officials from the Hawaii National Guard and the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters, began building 20 temporary housing units in Pahoa for families forced from their homes.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Explosion at Hawaii volcano spews ash as lava flows into sea

Gas and steam rise from a volcanic fissure in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

HONOLULU, Hawaii (Reuters) – A small explosion at the summit of Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea Volcano on Sunday sent ash spewing into the air, creating a driving hazard for roads on parts of the Big Island, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Lava fountains from a fissure in the volcano reached as high as 180 feet (55 meters) from Saturday night into Sunday, pushing flows of molten rock into the ocean, it said.

“Seismic activity at the crater continues with gas explosions and ash eruptions under 10,000 feet (3,050 meters). While the eruption is never predictable, conditions appear stable for the moment,” Richard Rapoza, a spokesman for Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said in an email.

Journalists and National Guard soldiers watch as lava erupts in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Journalists and National Guard soldiers watch as lava erupts in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The eruption, which entered its 39th day on Sunday, stands as the most destructive in the United States since at least the violent 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state that reduced hundreds of square miles (km) to wasteland and killed nearly 60 people, according to geologist Scott Rowland, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

No one has died in this Hawaii eruption but some 600 homes have been swallowed by lava flows from Kilauea since May 3, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said last week.

Vacationland, a private development believed to comprise about 160 homes, was completely erased, and at least 330 houses were devoured by lava at Kapoho Beach Lots, Kim said.

(Reporting by Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu and Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Frank McGurty and Sandra Maler)

Rivers of lava destroy 600 homes on Hawaii’s Big Island: mayor

Lava destroys homes in the Kapoho area, east of Pahoa, during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Approximately 600 homes have been swallowed by lava flows from Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island since early last month, marking its most destructive eruption in modern times, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said on Thursday.

The latest estimate of property losses from Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, far surpasses the 215 structures consumed by lava during an earlier eruption cycle that began in 1983 and continued nearly nonstop over three decades.

Kim said Kilauea, one of five volcanoes on the Big Island, formally known as the Island of Hawaii, has never destroyed so many homes before in such a short period of time.

The latest volcanic eruption, which entered its 36th day on Thursday, stands as the most destructive in the United States since at least the cataclysmic 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state that reduced hundreds of square miles to wasteland, according to geologist Scott Rowland, a volcano specialist from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

A similar, extremely violent eruption from Fuego volcano in Guatemala this week killed more than 100 people as it ejected deadly super-heated “pyroclastic” flows of lava and ash through nearby towns.

The latest damage appraisal from Kilauea came moments after Governor David Ige, on a visit to Hawaii County Civil Defense headquarters in Hilo, the island’s biggest city, signed a memorandum of understanding furnishing $12 million in immediate state disaster relief to the island.

Ige and Kim also announced formation of a task force of federal, state and local officials to devise a recovery plan for communities devastated by the eruption, with an eye toward preventing such major property losses in the future.

“Our responsibility is to try to work with the community to rebuild out of harm’s way,” Kim said.

County civil defense officials had a day earlier put the confirmed number of homes destroyed during the past month at 130, all of them in and around the Leilani Estates community, where lava-spouting fissures opened up on the volcano’s eastern flank on May 3.

Lava flows across a highway on the outskirts of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Lava flows across a highway on the outskirts of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

More recently a huge river of lava that has crept several miles across the landscape to the eastern tip of the island engulfed two entire seaside housing subdivisions – Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland.

Over the course of about three days, a rolling wall of molten rock measuring half-mile across and 10- to 15-feet tall buried hundreds of homes, while vaporizing a small freshwater lake and filling in an inlet called Kapoho Bay, extending about a mile out from what had been the shoreline.

Kim said Vacationland, a private development believed to comprise roughly 160 homes, was completely erased, and that at least 330 houses were devoured by lava at Kapoho Beach Lots. The rest were

The rest of the losses have occurred in the Leilani Estates area, where the toll of destruction has been steadily rising by the day.

“So if you combine the three of them (Kapoho, Vacationland and Leilani), we’re talking about 600 homes,” he told reporters. “I’m talking about 600 families. Don’t forget the farmers, don’t forget the ranchers, don’t forget all the employees for them.”

An estimated 2,500 people have been displaced by evacuations across the island since the eruption began five weeks ago, spouting fountains of lava and high concentrations of toxic sulfur dioxide gas through about two dozen volcanic fissures at the foot of the volcano.

Plumes of volcanic ash belched into the air by periodic daily explosions from the crater at Kilauea’s summit have posed an additional nuisance and health hazard to nearby communities.

So too have airborne volcanic glass fibers, called “Pele’s Hair,” wispy strands carried aloft by the wind from lava fountains and named for the volcanic goddess of Hawaiian myth.

Seaside residents and boaters also have been warned to avoid noxious clouds of laze – a term derived from the words “lava” and “haze” – formed when lava reacts with seawater to form a mix of acid fumes, steam and glass-like particles when it flows into the ocean.

Frequent earthquakes, mostly of relatively small magnitude but numbering in the thousands, have persisted throughout the eruption, adding to the jitters of residents living closest to the volcano.

In addition to destroying homes and other structures, lava flows have knocked out telephone and power lines, causing widespread communication outages, and forced the shutdown of a geothermal energy plant that normally provides about a quarter of the island’s electricity.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Pahoa; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

Volcanic lava buries two housing tracts on Hawaii’s Big Island

Lava destroys homes in the Kapoho area, east of Pahoa, during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – An ever-creeping wall of lava from Kilauea Volcano has engulfed two entire seaside housing tracts at the eastern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island, government scientists reported on Wednesday, an area where civil defense officials said nearly 280 homes once stood.

The obliteration of the Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland subdivisions by a river of molten rock some 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.6 meters) tall brings to at least 400 the number of homes and other structures consumed by lava during the past month.

That latest toll of property losses from Kilauea’s ongoing upheaval, which entered its 35th day on Wednesday, far surpasses the 215 structures destroyed by lava during all 35 years of the volcano’s last eruption cycle, which began in 1983.

“Vacationland is gone, there’s no evidence of any properties there at all,” Wendy Stovall, a vulcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), told reporters on a conference call. At the adjacent Kapoho Beach Lots to the north. “Just a few homes” are left standing, she added.

County property tax records show a total of 279 homes existed in the two subdivisions combined, according to David Mace, a Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman currently assigned to the Hawaii County Civil Defense authority.

Several miles (km) to the west, another 130 homes have been confirmed destroyed in and around the Leilani Estates community, where lava-spouting fissures in the ground first opened May 3 on the volcano’s lower flank, according to civil defense officials.

Mace said property losses in the east-end developments of Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland have yet to be officially documented.

The two communities, comprising a quiet vacation spot once popular for its snorkeling and tide pools, sat at the edge of a small, shallow inlet called Kapoho Bay. Lava pouring into the ocean there has completely filled in the bay, extending nearly a mile (1.6 km) out from what had been the shoreline, USGS scientists said.

Plumes of white steam and hydrochloric acid fumes, a vaporous, corrosive mix formed from lava reacting with seawater as it enters the ocean, could be seen rising from a distance.

‘EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER’

Authorities began evacuating the Kapoho area last week, with most residents ushered to safety by early on Saturday, hours before lava severed all road access to the region.

“I just locked my doors and walked away,” said Betty Oberman, a 28-year Vacationland resident who headed the neighborhood watch group there. “It’s an emotional roller coaster.”

The river of lava then spread out into a towering blob about a half-mile (800 meters) wide as it crept through the flat, open expanse of the subdivisions, swallowing everything in its path over the next few days.

A handful of residents who initially stayed behind rather than heed evacuation orders were airlifted by helicopter on Sunday.

Most of the two dozen volcanic vents have grown largely quiet over the past week, with just one, Fissure 8, still spewing large volumes of molten rock from the ground as of Wednesday, the USGS said. That fissure is the origin of the lava flow that devastated Kapoho.

Lava had covered nearly 8 square miles (20.7 sq km) of landscape as of Monday, and some 9,900 earthquakes had been recorded on the Big Island since Kilauea rumbled back to life last month. That’s nearly 10 times the monthly historic average for seismic activity on Hawaii Island, the USGS said.

(Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Michael Perry)