Firefighters rescue Puna man trapped by fast-moving lava flow

Rivers of lava flow toward the sea in lower Puna, where eruptions started May 3. (Image: USGS)
Rivers of lava flow toward the sea in lower Puna, where eruptions started May 3. (Image: USGS)
Pahoehoe lava advancing west from fissure 7 on Leilani Avenue. (Image: USGS)
Pahoehoe lava advancing west from fissure 7 on Leilani Avenue. (Image: USGS)
Eruptions are ongoing in lower Puna, creating lava flows headed toward the sea (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)
Eruptions are ongoing in lower Puna, creating lava flows headed toward the sea (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)
before and after
before and after

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Firefighters rescued a resident in Leilani Estates on Sunday night who was trapped when fast-moving lava covered his driveway.

Authorities said the resident was trapped about 8 p.m. when lava cut off his home on Luana Street.

Firefighters were able to guide man out of the area on foot using a back way through Nohea Street. The man reported no injuries and denied medical treatment, according to authorities.

First responders were alerted to the trapped resident shortly after civil defense officials told Leilani Estates residents in several areas  to "evacuate immediately" due to a swiftly-moving lava flow from fissure no. 7. Geologists described as "very active" and was creating lava fountains topping 200 feet.

Authorities urged residents on Nohea Street (between Leilani Avenue and Kahukai Street) and Kupuno Street (between Malama Street and Leilani Avenue) to evacuate immediately if they were still in the area.

And on Monday morning, USGS officials reported that lava from another fissure -- fissure no. 8 -- was about 50 yards away from Pohoki Road, a key road that connects Pahoa to the coast.

On Sunday:

  • A new fissure — no. 24 — opened in Leilani Estates between Kupuno and Nohea streets.
  • At least three active fissures in the subdivision were feeding lava flows that were traveling three miles downslope to the sea.
  • Lava reached the Puna Geothermal Venture's plant, and covered at least one well. No release of toxic gas had been detected.

Since the first outbreak happened more than three weeks ago, lava has claimed at least 82 structures on Kilauea's east rift zone and covered some 2,400 acres in lower Puna (or about 3.8 square miles).

In addition to vigorous eruptions, authorities are concerned about worsening ground cracking, air quality issues, ashfall in communities downwind of Kilauea's summit, and lava threatening key thoroughfares, something that could spur additional evacuations.

Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions — home to about 2,000 — have been under mandatory evacuation orders since May 3. But last week, civil defense authorities acknowledged that at least 200 people have remained in the communities.

In an interview, the governor said the scope of the disaster is difficult to fathom.

"It will get quiet for a little bit and then boom! We have an explosive eruption or the fountaining restarts again," Gov. David Ige said. "It's heart-wrenching."

Meanwhile, lava flows continue to cascade into the ocean in lower Puna, creating large plumes of "laze" — clouds of gas and shards of glass — that could force nearby residents to evacuate at a moment's notice.

The lava haze has spread miles west of where the lava met the ocean starting last weekend, after crossing Highway 137 near MacKenzie State Park.

As thousands of evacuees grow increasingly concerned about what the future holds, geologists say there's no way to tell when the volcanic activity will end. About 300 people are staying at three American Red Cross emergency shelters, while hundreds more are staying with friends and family.

"It's been like hell," said resident Ikaika Marzo, who has been helping get much-needed information to those in lower Puna.

He described the sounds of lava in the area as 10 or 20 jets taking off at once and right in your backyard. "It's like huge grenades going off," he said. "It shakes the whole community."

Authorities continue to urge residents in lower Puna to be prepared to flee quickly, either because of the risk of lava flows or higher levels of sulfur dioxide.

Geologists are also monitoring widening cracks in a number of roadways in Leilani Estates, ground zero for the ongoing eruptions.

Steve Brantley, of the USGS, said the large cracks, which have torn roads apart in some places or created gaps of 1 yard or wider, are an indication that magma is continuing to enter the rift zone.

"The rift zone is being forced apart," he said. "I think clearly it points to the potential for additional eruptive activity" in lower Puna.

Marzo, the resident, said he saw a crack on Nohea Street widen from about 3 feet on Thursday morning to about 10 feet wide later in the day. He also said that about 40 yards of the road sank.

"These cracks are definitely taking a toll on people getting to their homes," he said.

The developments underscore the scope of the disaster in the area, which has upended lives, destroyed homes and shows no signs of stopping.

In lower Puna, residents say the eruptions have turned their community into a "war zone."

"Everything is so uncertain. It's really nerve-wracking," said Debbie Kalaluhi, who can see the ongoing eruption of fissure no. 17 from her backyard. "You're very on edge. You have to really see it to believe it."

A presidential disaster declaration has been issued for the ongoing Kilauea eruptions, which authorities have compared to months-long volcanic activity 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 — after 88 days.


This story will be updated.

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