Evacuations, sulfur gas and staying tuned: What you need to know about Big Island eruptions

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - A dramatic eruption of Kilauea's eat rift zone has triggered evacuations in Leilani Estates an and a call for all residents to remain on alert.

Here's a look at what we know so far:

Which communities are under evacuation orders?

All residents in Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions in the Big Island's Puna region are under mandatory evacuation orders.

Some 1,700 people live in the area, and officials estimate there are approximately 800 structures.

So far, no other communities have been told to leave their homes — but officials warn that could change and that residents in communities down-rift of Puu O'o crater remain at risk for additional lava outbreaks.

What kind of damage has the lava already left in its wake?

Lava has damaged at least 27 homes in Leilani Estates, and additional homes are under threat.

The lava, spewing more than 200 feet in the air in places, has also covered roads, carved paths through forest land and devoured utility lines. Key roads in the community have been covered in lava, coming out a 2.5-mile-long line of fissures in the subdivision.

The eruption is sending sulfur gas into the air. Does that pose a threat to other areas?

Fire officials say noxious sulfur dioxide has been recorded at dangerously high levels in the evacuation area.

"The high levels detected are an immediate threat to life for all who become exposed," Hawaii County Civil Defense said. "First responders may not be able to come to the aid of residents who refuse to evacuate."

There hasn't been any indication, however, that sulfur gas levels are dangerously high outside the evacuation area, but officials said residents should remain vigilant and get out of an area where they smell sulfur gas.

Should residents and visitors in other Big Island communities be concerned?

Hawaii County Civil Defense officials say their message is one of vigilance: Stay tuned to get the latest on the lava threat.

As of Tuesday, only Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens are under evacuation orders, but first responders warn that could change — and fast.

That said, Big Island communities far outside the danger zone are not at high threat of any issues.

Are earthquakes still rattling the Big Island?

Yes, a series of small earthquakes continue on the Big Island. More than 1,000 earthquakes have rattled the region since eruptions began.

There's no way to tell how long earthquakes will continue, or whether the eruption could trigger another larger earthquake — like the 6.9 magnitude that shook Hawaii Island on Friday afternoon.

The tally just keeps growing. Observatory officials say swarms of eight to 10 tremors an hour are being felt in some Puna communities. And in recent days, hundreds have been recorded in the area. The biggest of those quakes was a 6.9-magnitude tremor that happened on Friday afternoon.

What should residents do to stay informed? 

Big Island residents, especially who live or work in areas bordering the east rift zone, are being urged to:

Hawaii News Now will also have up-to-date information in its app. Here are instructions on how to download it.

Authorities are also reminding residents to keep their neighbors in mind, especially senior citizens and others who may not have ready access to the internet, a smartphone or cable.

If you need special assistance or to report any unusual events, such as cracks developing roadways, call Civil Defense at 935-0031. Reports of serious or life-threatening events should be made to 911.

Preparing for the possibility of evacuation orders means: Remaining alert and plugged into messages from authorities, Rreviewing your emergency plan with your family and ensuring your important documents are in a readily-accessible place.

When is the last time lava inundated a Big Island community?

In 2014, lava threatened Pahoa for weeks, destroying several structures and closing roads.

But Hawaiian Volcano Observatory experts say the seismic activity and eruption being seen from this event is more similar to an eruption of Kilauea more than six decades ago. That eruption started in February 1955. And over a three-month period, 24 volcanic vents opened and lava covered 3,900 acres of land.

Copyright 2018 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.