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Homes damaged as residents flee Hawaii volcano eruption

Thousands of people have been told to leave their homes on Hawaii's Big Island following the eruption of the Kilauea volcano
AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) – At least two homes were damaged on Friday by lava on Hawaii’s Big Island after a volcano eruption that forced hundreds of residents to flee and prompted warnings over toxic fumes spewing from the crater.

Drone and video footage of the Kilauea volcano, which began erupting late Thursday, showed orange magma gushing up from cracks in the ground and snaking through a wooded area. Molten lava could also be seen bubbling up through cracks on streets in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens neighborhood.

Authorities on Thursday ordered a mandatory evacuation of the area, home to about 1,700 people and 770 structures.

No injuries have been reported.

Harry Kim, the mayor of Hawaii County, told a news conference on Friday that new eruptions had damaged two homes.

Authorities urged residents to stay away from the area and warned of extremely high levels of toxic fumes.

“Elderly, young, and people with respiratory issues need to comply with the mandatory evacuation order and leave the area,” a statement from the mayor’s office said.

Governor David Ige said residents were being housed in community centers until the danger from Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanos, has passed.

Ige signed an emergency proclamation releasing disaster funds to Big Island.

Aerial footage showed orange lava bubbling up from a fissure around 500 feet (150 meters) long and spouting into the air like a fountain. 

The first eruption began around 4:45 pm local time Thursday (0245 GMT Friday) and stopped at around 6:30 pm local time, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Authorities said two additional eruptions took place early Friday.

– ‘Fire curtain’ –

The lava outbreak came after hundreds of small earthquakes in recent days that followed the collapse of a crater floor on the Puu Oo volcanic cone. 

A 5.0-magnitude earthquake on Thursday morning south of the cone triggered rockfalls and potential additional collapse of the crater, USGS said.

It sent a short-lived but massive pink plume of ash wafting into the air.

Big Island resident Janice Wei, who moved to Hawaii from California — known for its high earthquake risk — said the eruption was almost a “relief.”

“We’ve been waiting for big movement from the crater, after so many small earthquakes,” she told AFP.

“Hawaiians and local people have lived here forever,” she said. “You know what’s going on; we have warning systems.”

“Everybody should be prepared.” 

The broader district potentially impacted by the threat is home to some 10,000 people.

Using his drone, area resident Jeremiah Osuna captured video footage of the lava flow, which he described as a “fire curtain” that left him feeling “shock and awe.”

“It was like if you put a bunch of rocks into a dryer and turned it on — a lot of earth and pressure and fire just moving around,” Osuna told AFP.

Governor Ige activated the state’s National Guard troops, and told residents to pay heed to official warnings.

In his emergency declaration, the governor noted the current flow was similar to a 1960 eruption in the Kapoho area that “caused significant damage.”

– FEMA mobilizing –

Geologist Janet Babb of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory told AFP that scientists had been following an “intrusion of magma” down the rift zone since Monday afternoon in anticipation of a possible eruption.

Though the cracks from which lava was emitting had gone dormant, she emphasized that “the overall concern and the overall event has not ended.”

US Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was mobilizing resources, as well as monitoring for forest fires, power outages and water supply issues.

Hawaii Island, or the Big Island, is the largest of the eight main islands that comprise the Pacific US state, an archipelago that includes hundreds of smaller volcanic islands.

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