Hawaii evacuees leave homes as fresh lava flow cuts off roads on Big Island
PAHOA, Hawaii — National Guard troops, police and firefighters ushered the last group of evacuees from homes on the eastern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island early on Saturday, hours before lava from the Kilauea volcano cut off road access to the area, officials said.
A stream of lava as wide as three football fields flowed over a highway near a junction at Kapoho, a seaside community of rebuilt after a destructive eruption of Kilauea in 1960.
The lava flow left Kapoho and the adjacent development of Vacationland cut off from the rest of the island by road, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense agency.
Also, lava destroyed a freshwater lake, boiling away all of the water in it, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported late on Saturday.
“Lava entered Green Lake within Kapoho Crater, producing a large steam plume ... A Hawaiian County Fire Department overflight reported that the lava filled the lake and apparently evaporated all the water,” the report said.
Authorities since Wednesday had been urging residents of the area to leave before lava spewing from a volcanic fissure at the eastern foot of Kilauea reached the area.
The final phase of the evacuation was carried out late on Friday and early Saturday by fire and police department personnel, with help from the Hawaii National Guard and public works teams, county civil defense spokeswoman Janet Snyder told Reuters by email.
An estimated 500 people live in the Kapoho area, but Snyder said it was not immediately clear how many residents, if any, chose to stay behind.
Another 2,000 people have already been evacuated from Leilani Estates, an area further west where dozens of homes have been devoured or cut off by rivers of lava streaming over the landscape since May 3.
Toxic sulfur dioxide gas emissions have created an additional hazard. So too have airborne volcanic glass fibers, called “Pele’s hair”, wispy strands produced by lava fountains and carried aloft by the wind.
The current activity has been accompanied for weeks by daily explosions of gas and volcanic rock from Kilauea’s summit crater as well as earthquakes.
But the summit has quieted down over the past few days, as tons of rubble shaken loose from the interior walls of the crater have fallen into the void and plugged up the bottom of the vent.
Scientists are unsure whether the blockage will eventually end eruptions at the summit or lead to a buildup of pressure that could cause a much bigger explosion.