PAHOA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - At least 10 homes were destroyed by lava in the last two days, bringing the number of homes claimed by ongoing eruptions in lower Puna to 87.
A mandatory evacuation order has been issued for about half of the lava-ravaged Leilani Estates subdivision, where eruptions that started more than four weeks ago are more vigorous than ever.
The evacuation order covers the area from Pomaikai Street to Malama Street, and violators could face arrest or face strict fines.
On Friday, fissure no. 8 — which has created the highest eruption rates since volcanic activity began in lower Puna on May 3 — continued spewing a massive lava fountain for a fifth day.
Geologists say in the last week, a spatter cone created at the fissure has grown to over 100 feet tall.
Meanwhile, lava is continuing to surge toward Kapoho and is threatening to cut off Beach Road at Four Corners, the only remaining access point out of lower Puna after lava covered Highway 132 on Tuesday. On Friday afternoon, the flow had cut back across Highway 132 and was less than a mile away from Four Corners.
Residents in the Kapoho area — where there are about 500 homes in Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland — are being urged to leave now.
"This is the last chance to get out," said Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator. "The flows are pretty active and quite broad."
Arthur Wierzchos, who was helping neighbors evacuate from Kapoho, said there are so many unknowns.
"A lot going on. A lot happening at once. And it's hard to process it all. And especially when you have so many attachments that are still in those areas and big flows surging their way over," he said.
Added Kapoho evacuee Steven Neill: "If the lava cuts at Four Corners, there's literally no way to get in. It's done. Until it quits and they bulldoze a new road, which they will."
Geologists say the intensity of the lava from Fissure no. 8 in particular is unlike anything they have ever experienced — or imagined seeing in the middle of a residential community.
"This is the hottest lava we've seen during this eruption," said Wendy Stovall, of the U.S. Geological Survey. "Lava can't get hotter than where we are."
All the activity comes as weary lower Puna residents grapple with a disaster that's upended their lives, forcing them from their homes and leaving them wondering how long the disaster will last.
This week, Mayor Harry Kim signed a second supplementary emergency proclamation, which gives him authority to suspend laws if needed to respond to the disaster more efficiently.
At a community meeting Wednesday, Kim sought to console residents, telling them that the community would get through this — together.
"We will be alright," Kim said, speaking in the cadence of a minister at times as he addressed a crowded cafeteria at Pahoa High.
"But we need to join hands to be all right and help each other. Nature is taking its course and this is our job. Our job is to recognize that. Stay out of harm's way and help each other through this adjustment."
In addition to vigorous eruptions, authorities are concerned about worsening ground cracking, air quality issues, and ashfall in communities downwind of Kilauea's summit.
About 2,000 people call the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions home.
For weeks, hundreds of evacuees have been staying at three Red Cross emergency shelters, while hundreds more are staying with friends and family.
As thousands grow increasingly concerned about what the future holds, geologists say there's no way to tell when the volcanic activity will end. And authorities continue to urge residents across lower Puna to be prepared to flee quickly, either because of the risk of lava flows or higher levels of sulfur dioxide.
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 over a period of 88 days.
This story will be updated.