Alaska volcano spews thick ash cloud, triggering aviation warning

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – An Alaska volcano that has been rumbling since midsummer shot ash about 5 miles (8 km) into the sky on Sunday, triggering a warning to aviators and dusting one small fishing village, officials reported.

Shishaldin Volcano, one of the most active in Alaska, kicked out a plume of ash that satellite imagery detected as high as 28,000 feet (8,535 m) above sea level, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, the joint federal-state-university office that tracks the state’s many volcanoes.

The plume stretched about 90 miles (145 km) as of midday, blowing mostly east and over the Gulf of Alaska, said the observatory.

A sprinkling of ash was reported in the tiny Aleutian village of False Pass, about 23 miles (37 km) northeast of the Shishaldin, said David Fee, the observatory’s University of Alaska Fairbanks coordinating scientist.

“Someone reported some ash on their windshield,” he said.

False Pass has a year-round population of about 40, according to state data, but draws many more people during the summer fishing season.

Also pouring out of Shishaldin’s caldera on Sunday was a stream of red-hot lava, the observatory reported.

Shishaldin has been in an on-and-off eruptive phase since July, occasionally dribbling lava down its snowy flanks and puffing ash and steam.

Most of the ash production has been relatively minor, but Sunday’s event was serious enough to warrant a “code red” warning for air traffic to avoid the area, the second such warning in the volcano’s current eruptive phase, Fee said.

“It’s a higher plume. It’s sustained. And it’s a higher concentration,” he said.

Shishaldin, about 680 miles (1,095 km) southwest of Anchorage, is the tallest mountain in the Aleutian chain, rising to 9,373 feet (2,857 m) in elevation. The upper two-thirds of the spherical peak are usually cloaked year-round in snow and ice, according to the observatory.

It is in a cluster of frequently erupting volcanoes in the eastern Aleutians. “This is the most active region in Alaska for volcanic activity,” Fee said.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Philippines struggles to evacuate reluctant villagers near volcano

By Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) – Nearly 40,000 people have been evacuated from near a Philippine volcano that could erupt violently at any moment, authorities said on Tuesday, but thousands more are refusing to leave or have already drifted back.

A cloud of ash and fountains of lava gushed for a third day from the crater of Taal, which lies in the middle of a lake about 70 km (45 miles) south of the center of the Philippines capital Manila.

Everyone living within 14 km (9 miles) of the volcano has been ordered to leave: potentially as many as 300,000 people, though disaster agency spokesman Mark Timbal said he believed the actual number who had been there was much lower.

Officially, 38,200 have now been evacuated, the agency said.

The Taal Volcano spews ash as it continues to errupt in Tagaytay City, Philippines, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Local officials complained that many others were complicating the evacuation effort by staying put.

“I had to put Talisay under lockdown to prevent residents, who were already in the evacuation centers from returning,” said Gerry Natanauan, mayor of one town that is well within the danger zone of the 311 meter (1,020-foot) volcano.

“They wanted to check their homes, possessions and animals, but they’re not supposed to do that because it is very dangerous.”

Although Taal is one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes, it has a deadly history: an eruption in 1911 killed more than 1,300 people.

Several new fissures have opened, emitting plumes of steam, while dozens of tremors were felt as far as in Tagaytay city, a popular tourist destination 32 km (20 miles) away.

RISK OF DEVASTATION

If an eruption happened, nobody would be able to return to their homes because they would be devastated, said Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvocs).

“The threat is really real,” he told a media briefing.

However, many refused to heed the warnings.

In part of Balete town, which sits on the edge of the danger zone, Red Cross trucks were sent to bring out 1,000 residents, but they left with only 130 because people thought they were far enough from the volcano, local authorities said.

No casualties have been reported so far, and seismologists said there was a chance this eruption could subside, but the signs still point to an imminent explosion.

Visiting the area on Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte joked that the government could try a traditional way to calm the volcano down.

“You should go there and, you know, say a little prayer and offer something. Let’s go by the primitive way of doing it just like what our forefathers would do,” he was quoted as saying by the Inquirer.Net website.

Taal has erupted more than 30 times in the past five centuries, most recently in 1977. A 1754 eruption lasted for months. The Philippines lies on the “Ring of Fire”, a belt of volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean that is also prone to earthquakes.

In Manila, government offices reopened on Tuesday after being closed on Monday because of a fine layer of ash that drifted from the volcano, but schools remained shut and many people still wore face masks.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Alex Richardson)

Thousands evacuated as Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupts

A general view shows Fuego volcano (Volcano of Fire) erupting as seen from San Juan Alotenango, outside of Guatemala City, Guatemala November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Nearly 4,000 people were evacuated on Monday from areas around Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, which began violently erupting overnight, the country’s disaster agency Conred said.

The volcano spewed out dangerous flows of fast-moving clouds of hot ash, lava and gas early Monday and more than 2,000 people had taken refuge in shelters so far, officials from the agency told reporters. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

More dangerous flows of hot ash and lava could be expelled, said Juan Pablo Oliva, the head of the country’s seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh.

In June, explosive flows from Fuego killed more than 190 people.

This is the fifth eruption so far this year of the 3,763-meter (12,346-feet) volcano, one of the most active in Central America, about 19 miles (30 km) south of Guatemala City.

(Reporting by Enrique Garcia; Editing by David Gregorio)

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)

Lava tours stir mixed feelings around erupting Kilauea

FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo

By Jolyn Rosa

HONOLULU(Reuters) – Shane Turpin has for years taken tourists on boat rides to see lava oozing lazily down Kilauea’s slopes and into the Pacific Ocean several miles away.

But when the river of molten rock burned down his and his neighbors’ houses after the volcano erupted in May, he briefly stopped the tours.

“When the houses on the coastline were burning, we took those ships off,” said Turpin, 39, who runs Lava Ocean Tours out of Hilo. “Those were my neighbors, I actually lived there.”

But like many on the island trying to rebuild a life amid the destruction, he went back to work, catering to increased demand from tourists eager to witness the latest eruption of one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

“Life always provides different opportunities; you either accept things and go forward with them or you don’t,” he said.

Kilauea has shown no signs of quieting since it first began erupting on May 3. Lava spewing from “Fissure 8” has wiped out scores of homes in Kapoho by the Pacific. Scenic Kapoho Bay, a stop along Turpin’s tours, is now filled with lava.

And, after a short respite, “lava tourism” is booming on the Big Island, with helicopter and boat tour operators trying to please tourists and show respect for thousands of locals who have lost homes or been evacuated.

LAVA TOUR BOOM

Lava tourism has long existed on Hawaii’s Big Island. Visitor numbers spike each time Kilauea, which has erupted almost continuously since 1983, sends a tongue of lava toward the ocean. The current eruption is one of the longest and most intense on record.

Visitor arrivals to the Big Island fell by 1.6 percent in May year-on-year after the eruption, after several cruise ships canceled port calls at Hilo and Kona, the island’s two main cities, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said. Yet tourist spending actually increased by 3.3 percent to $173.9 million in May.

Figures for June have not yet been released.

Boat tours cost around $220 per person, with at least two other outfits competing with Turpin. Half a dozen companies also offer helicopter tours starting at around $300 per seat.

Residents have mixed feelings about noisy tour helicopters that fly over traumatized communities like Leilani Estates and Kapoho Vacationland, which lost hundreds of homes.

“They have helicopters starting as early as six in the morning and they go all day,” said Rob Guzman, 47, an evacuee and guesthouse operator, who recently returned to his Kalapana home after an access road was reopened.

“At the same time, it’s putting more money into the local economy when we’ve been hit very hard,” he added.

Tourists on helicopter tours will see a 180-foot (55-meter) tall lava geyser, an eight-mile 8 miles (13-km) river of molten rock from fissure 8 cascading toward the sea, and a newly made volcanic wasteland pockmarked with the remains of over 650 homes.

It was something Seattle tourist Steve Gaffin could not resist.

“I feel sorry for all the people who’ve lost their homes,” said Gaffin, who planned to see the eruption on a visit to the island with his wife. But he added, “Why would you want to miss this? This is exciting!”

People can only witness the lava from the air or the sea. All lava flow hiking tours have been stopped, and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where Kilauea is located, is closed to visitors. Over 80 people, some of them locals, have been cited for loitering in lava zones and face penalties of up to $5,000 and a one-year jail sentence.

That leaves some evacuees, displaced and unable to the pay the cost of tours, unable to view the spectacle of lava flows that destroyed their homes or forced them to flee. They are allowed to inspect their homes at regular intervals with a civil defense escort.

“Seeing the lava is a right and part of processing the disaster,” said Hazen Komraus, head of a community association in the Kalapana area, who like many locals wants to see a ground viewing area established.

With this in mind, one helicopter tour company said it was giving any empty seats free of charge to evacuees to join the sightseeing tours and is offering them discounts if they want to hire a helicopter to survey their properties from the air.

“We’ve flown several dozen residents so far and have dozens more on the list,” said Paradise Helicopters Chief Executive Cal Dorn, adding that he also donates up to $20 per seat on tourist flights toward evacuee relief efforts.

(Reporting by Jolyn Rosa; additional reporting by Terray Sylvester and Suzanne Barlyn in Pahoa; additional reporting and writing by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; editing by Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Oatis)

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)

Volcano on Indonesian island of Bali hurls out ash and lava

Mount Agung volcano erupts in Bali, Indonesia, July 2, 2018 photo obtained from social media.

DENPASAR, Indonesia (Reuters) – A volcano on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali erupted late on Monday, hurling lava and ash kilometers into the air and prompting panicked residents to flee their homes. Mount Agung in northeast Bali has been rumbling since late last year and on Friday there was a temporary closure of the island’s international airport, disrupting flights and stranding thousands of travelers.

Mount Agung volcano erupts during the night, as seen from Bugbug village in Karangasem regency in Bali, Indonesia, July 2, 2018. Picture taken July 2, 2018. Andre Ardiansyah/Handout via REUTERS

Mount Agung volcano erupts during the night, as seen from Bugbug village in Karangasem regency in Bali, Indonesia, July 2, 2018. Picture taken July 2, 2018. Andre Ardiansyah/Handout via REUTERS

Indonesia’s national disaster mitigation agency said residents heard a loud explosion and saw flaming volcanic rocks thrown at least 2 km (1.2 miles) out of the crater. The eruption lasted for about seven minutes and photographs posted by the agency showed glowing lava streaming from the crater, setting fire to vegetation. “Residents have started evacuating voluntarily,” said Sutopo Nugroho, a spokesman for the agency, adding the airport remained operational and there was no change in the volcano’s alert status.The last time Agung staged a major eruption was in 1963, when more than 1,000 people died and several villages on its slopes were razed.

The airport on Bali reopened on Friday after ash had forced a brief closure and the cancellation of more than 300 flights.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Ed Davies and Andrew Roche)

Volcanic ash forces Guatemala airport to suspend operations

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Guatemala City’s La Aurora international airport temporarily suspended operations on its only runway on Wednesday due to ash after the Pacaya volcano increased activity, a week and half after a violent eruption from another peak killed more than 100.

“This is a preventative measure taken to safeguard the lives of passengers and aircraft safety,” Guatemala’s civil aviation authority said.

Pacaya, located some 48 kilometers (30 miles) south of the capital, is spewing a column of ash and gas some 3,500 meters (11,483 feet) into the air and has produced different low-level lava flows over the last few months, the seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh said in a statement.

Winds are blowing the column some 10 kilometers (6 miles) to the north, northeast.

Insivumeh asked authorities to prepare for the possibility that Pacaya may increase its volcanic activity over the “coming hours or days.”

Guatemalan authorities are already on high alert after the Fuego volcano erupted on June 3, shooting fast-moving currents of ash, lava and super-heated gas down its slopes that buried villages in its path. The eruption of the volcano was its worst in four decades, killing at least 110 people and leaving nearly 200 missing.

Pacaya, one of Guatemala’s 34 volcanoes, had its last major eruption in 2010, killing three people and forcing hundreds to evacuate.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by 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)

Property losses mount on Hawaii’s Big Island as lava flow spreads

Lava flows into the Pacific Ocean in the Kapoho area, east of Pahoa, during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – A river of lava spewing from the foot of Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano swallowed about three dozen more homes on the Big Island during a weekend of destruction that brought to nearly 120 the number of dwellings devoured since last month, officials said on Monday.

Mounting property losses were reported a day after five or six people who initially chose to stay in the newly evacuated Kapoho area after road access was cut off were rescued by helicopter, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense agency.

All but a few of the estimated 500 inhabitants of Kapoho and adjacent Vacationland development are now believed to have fled their homes, an agency spokesman said. The area lies near the site of a seaside village buried in lava from a 1960 eruption.

The latest damage came from a large lava flow that crept several miles (km) before severing a key highway junction at Kapoho on Saturday and then obliterating about a half dozen blocks of the subdivision over the weekend, the spokesman said.

Lava flows into the Pacific Ocean in the Kapoho area, east of Pahoa, during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Lava flows into the Pacific Ocean in the Kapoho area, east of Pahoa, during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

One finger of the lava poured into a small freshwater lake, boiling away all its water late on Saturday, while another finger spilled into Kapoho Bay on Sunday night, officials said.

On Monday, civil defense reported a total of 117 homes and other structures destroyed across the island’s larger lava-stricken region, as the eruption from Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, continued through its 33rd day.

About three dozen of those structures, mostly private homes and vacation rentals, were lost during the weekend in Kapoho. The rest were consumed weeks earlier in the larger Leilani Estates subdivision several miles (km) to the west, where lava-spouting fissures in the ground first opened on May 3.

About 2,000 residents have been displaced from Leilani since earlier this month as fountains of lava and high concentrations of toxic sulfur dioxide gas continued unabated. A mandatory evacuation of much the subdivision was imposed last week.

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 a health concern 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 volcano goddess of Hawaiian myth.

Seaside residents and boaters also have been warned to avoid noxious clouds of laze — a term combining the words “lava” and “haze” — formed when lava reacts with seawater to form a mix of acid fumes, steam and glass-like specks.

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.

At the same time, most of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, one of the island’s biggest tourist attractions, remains closed indefinitely due to hazards from ash and volcanic rock ejected from the summit crater, and accompanying earthquakes that have damaged park facilities.

Kilauea’s current upheaval comes on the heels of an eruption cycle that began in 1983 and had continued nearly nonstop for 35 years, destroying more than 200 homes. Scientists say they are unsure whether the latest activity is part of the same eruption phase or a new one, and how long it may last.

(Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)