PAHOA, Hawaii (AP) — The slopes of Kilauea offer a lush rural setting and affordable land, but living on one of the world’s most active volcanoes comes with risks: A dozen lava vents have opened in the streets, and 35 structures have burned down.
The Leilani Estates subdivision was ordered to evacuate after lava burst through cracks in the ground. But Cheryl Griffith refused to leave.
As lava crawled down Leilani Road in a hissing, popping mass, she stood in its path and placed a plant in the crack in the ground as an offering to the Native Hawaiian volcano goddess, Pele.
“I love this place, and I’ve been around the volcano for a while,” said Griffith, 61. “I’m just not one to rush off.”
The subdivision in the Puna district, a region of mostly unpaved roads of volcanic rock, is about a 30-minute drive from the coastal town of Hilo. Puna has thick jungle as well as dark fields of lava rock from past eruptions. The gently sloping volcano dips from its summit to Puna’s white sand beaches and jagged sea cliffs.
The landscape and the property values contrast sharply with Hawaii’s more expensive real estate. The region has macadamia nut farms and other agriculture along with multimillion-dollar homes with manicured lawns. Other houses are modest, sitting on small lots with old cars and trucks scattered about.
For many people outside Hawaii, it’s hard to understand why anyone would risk living near an active volcano with such destructive power. But the people here are largely self-sufficient and understand the risks of their location.
Amber Makuakane, a 37-year-old teacher and single mother of two, lost her three-bedroom house to the lava. She grew up here and lived in the house for nine years. Her parents also live in Leilani Estates.
“The volcano and the lava — it’s always been a part of my life,” she said. “It’s devastating … but I’ve come to terms with it.”
It was difficult to tell from aerial surveys of the Puna district how many of the destroyed structures were homes and how many are other structures, said Wil Okabe, acting mayor of Hawaii County.
The dangers of the volcano mean that many homeowners cannot get insurance.
Griffith said that is the hardest part of this lifestyle — they won’t be able to recoup losses. Moments later, an explosion came from a nearby burning house.
Many homes use rainwater-catch tanks and cesspools or septic tanks. Some rely on solar power, and others live entirely off the electrical grid.
Sam Knox, 65, who was born in Hawaii and now lives just a few hundred feet from a volcanic fissure, said he decided not to leave, despite the nearby explosions and the lava being hurled into the sky and flowing across his neighbor’s property.
“It was roaring sky high. It was incredible. … Rocks were flying out of the ground,” he said. Much of the area filled with lava in just four hours.
Kilauea (pronounced kill-ah-WAY’-ah) has been erupting continuously since 1983. There’s no indication when this particular lava flow might stop or how far it might spread. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey expect the flow to continue until more magma drains from the system.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, told evacuees Monday that he has called the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Authority to tell officials that he believes the state will need federal help to deal with the erupting volcano.
On Sunday, some of the evacuees were allowed to return briefly to gather medicine, pets and other necessities. They will be able to do so each day as long as authorities believe it is safe.
Knox has some belongings packed in case he has to make a fast escape.
“I decided to stay because I wanted to experience this in my life,” he said. “I’m ready to actually evacuate, but if I don’t have to evacuate, I’m just going to keep staying here because I don’t have no other home to go to.”
Associated Press writers Jennifer Sinco Kelleher and Sophia Yan in Honolulu contributed to this report.
Hawaii volcano could spew boulders the size of refrigerators
By SOPHIA YAN and SETH BORENSTEIN
PAHOA, Hawaii (AP) — If Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano blows its top in the coming days or weeks, as experts fear, it could hurl ash and boulders the size of refrigerators miles into the air, shutting down airline traffic and endangering lives in all directions, scientists said Thursday.
“If it goes up, it will come down,” said Charles Mandeville, volcano hazards coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey. “You don’t want to be underneath anything that weighs 10 tons when it’s coming out at 120 mph.”
The volcano, which has been spitting and sputtering lava for a week, has destroyed more than two dozen homes and threatened a geothermal plant. The added threat of an explosive eruption could ground planes at one of the Big Island’s two major airports and pose other dangers. The national park around the volcano announced that it would close because of the risks.
“We know the volcano is capable of doing this,” Mandeville said, citing similar explosions at Kilauea in 1925, 1790 and four other times in the last few thousand years. “We know it is a distinct possibility.”
He would not estimate the likelihood of such an explosion, but said the internal volcanic conditions are changing in a way that could lead to a blast in about a week. The volcano’s internal plumbing could still prevent an explosion.
If it happens, a summit blast could also release steam and sulfur dioxide gas.
Kilauea has destroyed 36 structures — including 26 homes — since May 3, when it began releasing lava from vents about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of the summit crater. Fifteen of the vents are now spread through the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens neighborhoods.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige said crews at a geothermal energy plant near the lava outbreak accelerated the removal of stored flammable fuel as a precaution. The Puna Geothermal Venture plant has about 50,000 gallons (189,270 liters) of pentane. It was removed by midday Thursday.
Coffee farmer Palikapu Dedman, 71, has dedicated half his life to battling the plant that sits on the long slopes of Kilauea. He and other native Hawaiians say the plant desecrates traditional beliefs and angers Pele, the goddess of fire, who lives at the summit crater.
Now that the plant is threatened by Kilauea, Dedman says he feels vindicated.
“You really can’t hurt Pele,” he said. “It’s just reinforcement of my beliefs — she’s present! And the plant could get covered by lava tomorrow.”
Barbara Lozano, who lives within a mile of the plant, said she would have thought twice about buying her property if she had known the risks.
“Why did they let us buy residential property, knowing it was a dangerous situation? Why did they let people build all around it?” she asked.
About 2,000 people have been evacuated from the neighborhoods were lava has oozed from the ground.
No one lives in the immediate area of the summit crater. The crater and surrounding region are a part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which planned to close Friday.
“It seems pretty safe to me right now, but they’d know best,” said Cindy Wood, who was visiting from British Columbia, Canada. “We don’t know what’s going on underground. Life and safety is what’s most important.”
What could happen is not an eruption of volcanic gases but mostly trapped steam from flash-heated groundwater released like in a kitchen pressure cooker, with rocks, said volcanologist Janine Krippner of Concord University in West Virginia.
The problem is the lava lake at the summit of Kilauea is draining fast, about 6.5 feet (2 meters) per hour, Mandeville said.
In little more than a week, the top of the lava lake has gone from spilling over the crater to almost 970 feet (295 meters) below the surface as of Thursday morning, Mandeville said. The lava levels in the lake are dropping because lava is spewing out of cracks elsewhere in the mountain, lowering the pressure that filled the lava lake.
“This is a huge change. This is three football fields going down,” Mandeville said.
The fear is that it will go below the underground water table — another 1,000 feet further down — and that would trigger a chain of events that could lead to a “very violent” steam explosion, Mandeville said.
At the current rate of change, that is about six or seven days away.
Once the lava drops, rocks that had been superheated could fall into the lava tube. And once the lava drops below the water table, water hits rocks that are as hot as almost 2,200 degrees (1,200 degrees Celsius) and flashes into steam. When the water hits the lava, it also steams. And the dropped rocks hold that steam in until it blows.
A similar 1924 explosion threw pulverized rock, ash and steam as high as 5.4 miles into the sky, (9 kilometers) for a couple of weeks. If another blast happens, the danger zone could extend about 3 miles (5 kilometers) around the summit, land all inside the national park, Mandeville said.
The small, aptly named town of Volcano, Hawaii, population 2,500, is about 3 miles (4.83 kilometers) from the summit. Janet Coney is office manager of the Kilauea Lodge, an inn and restaurant. She said USGS officials told her lodge employees probably won’t have to worry about rocks raining down on them, but they might experience falling ash.
Borenstein reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writers Audrey McAvoy, Caleb Jones, Haven Daley and Jennifer Sinco Kelleher contributed to this report.