Lava enters ocean in Kapoho, raising more concerns about 'laze'

Evacuations underway amid vigorous eruptions threatening homes, roads
Published: May. 31, 2018 at 4:29 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 4, 2018 at 11:05 AM HST
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Lava cut off a major access point on Saturday morning effectively isolating the Vacationland...
Lava cut off a major access point on Saturday morning effectively isolating the Vacationland and Kapoho communities. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Ongoing eruptions have prompted a mandatory evacuation order in parts of Leilani Estates....
Ongoing eruptions have prompted a mandatory evacuation order in parts of Leilani Estates. (Image: Hawaii County Civil Defense)
Fierce eruptions in lower Puna show no signs of letting up. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical...
Fierce eruptions in lower Puna show no signs of letting up. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)
Here's a new look at fissure no. 8 from the intersection of Nohea and Leilani streets. (Image:...
Here's a new look at fissure no. 8 from the intersection of Nohea and Leilani streets. (Image: USGS)

PAHOA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Geologists are closely monitoring a lava flow from a very active fissure that continues to move through the Kapoho area, cutting off key roads in lower Puna and prompting the rescues of three people.

Hawaii County Civil Defense said on Monday morning that lava entered the ocean in Kapoho Bay late Sunday, raising more concerns of "laze," a toxic steam mixed with glass fragments.

The lava is coming from fissure 8, which officials say continues to feed a large channelized flow traveling along Highway 132, the Pahoa-Kapoho Road.

At this time, officials warn that both Highways 132 and 137 remain shut down due to lava inundation.

The lava flow also led to the rescues of three people who were trapped while in the isolated areas of Kapoho and Vacationland. They were airlifted out of the area by county rescuers, according to officials with the National Guard on Sunday morning.

First responders were actively conducting search and rescue missions in isolated areas to extract any remaining residents.

DLNR officials say citations were being issued to some people within the evacuation zone who were being rescued by air for refusing to leave.

On Saturday evening, Senator Kaialii Kahele says while on an overflight he saw the trapped residents who were directed to go to Isaac Hale Beach Park in Pohoiki — a designated landing zone for evacuation.

Meanwhile, a preliminary 5.5-magnitude quake rattled the Big Island just before 4 p.m. Sunday near Kilauea. No tsunami was expected from the quake, which is among the strongest of the 500 smaller earthquakes recorded between Saturday and Sunday.

USGS officials said the high amount of seismic activity was the most earthquakes recorded in a 24-hour period on Hawaii Island.

At 11 a.m. Sunday, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists said fissure 9 appears to be heating up and is "heavily steaming."

The flow also apparently evaporated Green Lake, which was the largest freshwater lake in the islands.

By about 10 a.m., lava had crawled into Kapoho Crater, creating a huge steam plume when it hit Green Lake.

The plume had ceased by 1:30 p.m. and an aerial assessment revealed the lava appeared to have filled the lake and evaporated all the water. Green Lake is believed to be four centuries old, and at least one study put its depth at 200 feet in spots.

"It was burning homes, it was burning farms, and just laying destruction in its path with a direct line for Vacationland and Kapoho Bay," Sen. Kahele said. "I would be surprised, if it continues on its current speed, that it hasn't reached the Kapoho Vacationland shoreline by the time the sun comes up."

The devastating flow can all be sourced back to fissure no. 8, which has been creating fountains of lava for days and sending lava along Highway 132, the Pahoa-Kapoho Road, with two flow fronts.

Government Beach Road, between Kahakai Boulevard and Cinder Road, is open to Waa Waa and Papaya Farms Road residents only, but they must have official credentials.

And a mandatory evacuation zone remains in place for about half of lava-ravaged Leilani Estates. Officials began enforcing the new rules Friday.

The evacuation order covers the area from Pomaikai Street to Malama Street, where huge fountains of lava, ongoing flows and toxic emissions are making conditions unsafe.

"Leilani (Estates) is just so treacherous with the fissures opening up," said Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, at a news conference Saturday. "That's the reason we chose to shut it down."

Magno also said that the few people who have decided to stay behind, despite multiple warnings from officials and first responders, are living in less-than-ideal conditions. "Cells are out, landlines are out, there's no power, municipal water is out," Magno said. "You'd have to be pretty self-sufficient."

Amid the ongoing eruptions, which started a month ago Sunday, the Big Island continues to see visitor cancellations.

Ross Birch, with the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said the biggest impact of the tourism slump is on small businesses. "The immediate lack of (cruise ship) port calls in Hilo and Kona, that hurts the mom and pop operations," he said. "If you have plans, definitely keep them."

Geologists have said there's no telling when the eruptions will end. That uncertainty — and the ongoing destruction — is leaving residents on edge.

Heath Dalton and his family lived in Leilani Estates. They lost everything to lava.

"Their baby blankets are gone, I didn't grab it," he said. "If I had known that was the last time I was going to see my house I think we would have done things differently."

The timing couldn't be worse. Their daughter turned 5 Saturday — and all her presents burned.

The mandatory evacuation order for parts of Leilani Estates comes amid ongoing vigorous eruptions, which have taken out dozens of homes in recent days. On Monday, authorities put the number of homes claimed by lava at 117.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologists say the lava fountaining from fissure no. 8 is the hottest they've ever detected in this eruption and the flow it's feeding is capable of moving upwards of 600 yards per hour.

Leilani Estates evacuees say they understand the reasons behind the mandatory evacuation, and say they appreciate the county's work in recent weeks to allow them to get into the subdivision during the day to cart out belongings and pets.

"I do think that it is appropriate," said Wendy Klepps, whose house is near the geyser of lava shooting out of fissure no. 8.

"Most of us here in Leilani, we've left. We know the danger. We're respecting what we were told to do from the beginning and we've vacated what we can as we can. We're just being responsible."

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said the order was necessary to keep people safe.

"I can no longer afford to put residents at risk," he said, at a community meeting this week. "I can no longer afford to put DOCARE, police, fire, national guard to go banging in the dark of a neighborhood they don't know to say you must get out now."

This story will be updated.

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