PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - They just keep coming — eruptions, one after another, spewing out lava and toxic gas in parts of lower Puna where life has all but come to a standstill amid the fiery shows.
On Monday morning, Hawaii County Civil Defense officials confirmed a new fissure opened in the Lanipuna Gardens subdivision, between fissures 15 and 16. This is near Hinalo Road -- south of the Puna Geothermal Venture plant and west of Highway 132 on the Kalapana side.
The latest outbreak brings the total number of fissures to 19.
Also on Monday, officials said fissure no. 17, which opened over the weekend, was still active and continued emitting explosions of lava spatter more than 100 feet into the air. A narrow lava flow was slowly moving toward the ocean, about two miles away, but no homes or roads were threatened.
Fissure no. 18 was confirmed on Sunday evening and heightened fears about the possibility of a mass evacuation if the volcanic activity continues. Officials said the outbreak was between fissures no. 16 and 17, and was still active Monday morning, albeit weak.
About 8 p.m. Sunday, Pomai Kajiyama posted a video on Facebook showing a huge cloud of smoke emanating from this fissure.
"I'm out here in Kapoho, and there was just a huge explosion," Kajiyama said.
Earlier in the day, police went door-to-door on Halekamahina Loop Road, waking up area residents and telling them to evacuate after a 17th fissure opened up to the west — or Kalapana side — of Highway 132.
The USGS said aerial observations of the eruption indicated it was at least 1,000 feet long and producing lava spatter rising many tens of feet into the air. A slow-moving lava flow was moving away from the vent.
Meanwhile, Hawaii County Civil Defense said the 17th fissure claimed at least one structure.
Officials on Sunday also briefly shut down Highway 132, known locally as Pahoa-Kapoho Road, between the "Y" interchange where it turns into Pohoiki Road and Four Corners. It has since reopened to local traffic only.
Cracks along Highway 132 near Noni Farms Road have reportedly worsened considerably and are steaming, and authorities are concerned it could soon develop into the site of a 19th fissure.
The roadway is important because the route is meant to serve as the detour to the Kapoho and Kalapana areas. Residents there will now need to use Old Government Road or Beach Road to get out of their communities.
"In the military we like to have two ways to exit out of a dangerous situation," said Maj. Jeff Hickman, public affairs officer with the Hawaii National Guard. "If that road does get cut off, we do start to plan for a mass evacuation. It is a dangerous situation. We're trying to plan for the worst."
Amid all of the outbreaks, authorities have repeatedly urged thousands living in Kilauea's east rift zone to be prepared to evacuate quickly.
A presidential disaster declaration has been issued for the ongoing Kilauea eruptions, which have changed the landscape of a Big Island community, destroyed and damaged homes and infrastructure and forced hundreds to evacuate. So far:
- Some 37 structures have been destroyed, including 27 homes.
- Lava has covered more than 117 acres of land.
- At least nine roads are now impassable.
- As many as 50 utility poles have been damaged by the lava, and hundreds have been without power since the eruptions started.
The newest eruptions come on the heels of another one Saturday.
The 16th fissure was reported on Saturday morning, breaking out about a mile east of the Puna Geothermal Venture plant. Volcanic activity was also reported about 100 meters below no. 16, but authorities said it was not a fissure because no active lava erupted from it.
After the 16th outbreak was confirmed, officials ordered vacation rentals to cease operations in the area immediately — though it was no immediately clear how many visitors remained in the area.
Authorities also urged residents to take action now to be prepared to flee. That message got through to many.
"I think everybody recognizes that the lava outbreak is purely unpredictable," said resident David Ellis. "I think our greatest danger is being cut off when Highway 132 is closed, and that should be soon, from everything that I hear."
He added, "We assume the worst, and hope for the best.
Residents of lower Puna are also being told they can leave voluntarily and stay in one of two shelters at Pahoa and Keaau community centers. Mandatory evacuations, meanwhile, remain in place for the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions, home to about 2,000 people.
"We still have a highly active volcano here at Kilauea," said Tina Neal, USGS scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
She added that there are growing fears that "hotter, fresher" magma could be making its way downslope. Eruptions of fresher lava would increase the risk of fountains and more significant flows, she said.
It's been more than a week since the first eruption started at Kilauea's east rift zone, and scientists say there's no telling when the volcanic activity will end.
In addition to lava, hazardous fumes continue to pour from fissures in Puna that stretch over nearly 3 miles.
And at the summit of Kilauea, scientists continue to warn residents and visitors about the threat of explosive eruptions that could fling boulders "the size of cows" over a half a mile from Halemaumau Crater.
That's why officials closed most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Friday, and also issued new warnings to residents who live near the summit about how to handle ashfall. It's unclear when the park, one of the state's most popular tourist destinations, will reopen.
On Saturday, USGS officials reported that a vigorous plume of steam and varying amounts of ash was rising from the overlook vent at Kilauea's summit. Depending on wind conditions, ash may spread in the Kilauea summit area and downwind, according to officials.
The governor, who toured lava-ravaged Leilani Estates last week, was expected to return to the Big Island on Monday to get the latest on the situation.
"It certainly is heartbreaking to see the homes and the families who have lost everything," Ige said, while visiting an information and donation center set up by residents in Pahoa. "We just want to keep everyone safe and continue to look at what we can continue to do to prepare.
More than 500 people and dozens of pets remain in American Red Cross shelters. Hundreds more are staying with friends and family.
Authorities are scrambling to find more long-term housing options for evacuees, while also raising concerns about what would happen if evacuations greatly increase.
Evacuees say with each day, the situation becomes more difficult.
"It's kind of challenging living with a bunch of people and dogs. Everybody is on edge," one evacuee said.
Another evacuee added, "It's been very humbling, but we've had to adapt, trying to make the best of the situation. It's not easy."
While earthquake activity continues on Big Island, the frequency of tremors has dialed back — though a 3.5 -magnitude quake did rattle the island on Saturday morning.
None of the tremors, though, have been as strong as the 6.9-magnitude quake that hit Hawaii Island on Friday afternoon, just an hour after another sizable quake. The tremor was the largest in Hawaii since 1975 and generated small tsunami waves around the Big Island.
The temblor, centered on the south flank of Kilauea, was felt as far away as Oahu and also triggered several landslides along the Hamakua Coast, including one that closed a lane for several hours.
The first eruption in Leilani Estates started May 3 and had ended by about 6:30 p.m., after creating a fissure that sent lava soaring as high as 125 feet into the air.
Shortly after the eruptions started, the governor activated the Hawaii National Guard and issued an emergency disaster proclamation.
Puna residents fled their homes with few belongings — just what they could collect in the minutes they had to leave, as officers went door-to-door to ensure everyone got out. One resident said he grabbed his father's ashes as he ran out the door.
"My family is safe, the rest of the stuff can be replaced," another resident said. "When I bought here 14 years ago, I knew that this day would eventually come. But the reality is sinking in now."
Some residents seemed in disbelief at what they were seeing in their own backyards. In social media posts, they documented lava sputtering up from cracks in the roadway and then angrily boiling up higher and higher.
The first signs of trouble in Leilani Estates, though, were apparent around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, when residents reported plumes of smoke spewing from cracks in the road.
► 'Puna strong': As lava crisis continues, community comes together to help their own ► How do you stop the flow of lava? (Most times, you don't) ► Quake that shook Big Island was biggest in Hawaii since 1975 ► LIST: Shelter opens, schools closed as a result of lava threat at Kilauea ► Kilauea eruptions being compared to 1955 event that went on for months ► After eruption, residents fled with little — and didn't know what they'd return home to
Authorities have compared the newest eruption of Kilauea along the south rift zone to an eruption in February 1955, in which at least 24 separate volcanic vents opened up and lava covered about 3,900 acres.
Back then, coastal communities from Kalapana to Kapoho were evacuated and "sections of every public road to the coastline were buried by lava" before the eruption abruptly stopped in May 1955.
The last time lava threatened Puna was in 2014, when a flow closed roads for weeks in Pahoa, forced evacuations and claimed several structures, including one home.
This story will be updated.