Nearly three months later, Kilauea eruption shatters a record — and just keeps going

Ongoing Kilauea eruption sets new record (6:30)
Updated: Jul. 31, 2018 at 4:35 PM HST
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PAHOA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - The ongoing Kilauea eruption has surpassed the previous record for the longest eruption in the lower east rift zone.

Tuesday marks 89 days since the first fissure opened in Leilani Estates on May 3. That breaks the record for the longest eruption in the lower east rift zone set in 1955.

During the eruption six decades ago, at least 24 separate vents opened along a nine-mile stretch, from Kapoho to west of the Pahoa-Kalapana road.

Geologists say lava flows cut all access to lower Puna, covering over six miles of public roads.

The eruption required the evacuation of most coastline residents, from Kapoho to Kalapana, for an extended period. Some 21 homes were claimed by lava, which covered 3,900 acres of Hawaii Island.

During the current eruption, at least 24 fissures have also broken out, but only one is active right now: Fissure no. 8.

The channelized flow it's producing has moved at speeds upwards of 25 miles per hour as it continues to wind more than eight miles to the sea.

Officials say the current eruptions has officially claimed 720 homes, along with a host of beloved spots, including Malama Flats; Wai a Pele at Puu Kapoho (also known as Green Lake in Kapoho Crater or Green Mountain); Waiopae Tidepools in Kapoho; and Ahalanui (Warm Ponds).

Pohoiki Bay and Boat Ramp and Isaac Hale Beach Park have been spared, but more than 13 square miles have been covered by lava, which has also created more than 825 acres of new land in the form of a lava delta filling what was once Kapoho Bay.

"All the records that I'm really concerned about have been broken," Mayor Harry Kim told Hawaii News Now.

"The number of square miles covered. The number of businesses destroyed forever, the number of homes destroyed and covered forever. It goes beyond that. The hurt will last for a long time."

Kim says he's aware of the incredible emotional toll the eruption has caused, and the impact of financial loss on families and the economy.

Ongoing eruptions have created more than 400 acres of new land on the Big Island

"Recovery for some will never be. And recovery for others will be long-term," Kim said. "I'll give you other figures: Over 700 homes, numerous businesses, farms, ranches, dreams, that's what counts. Not how long it will last."

['The million dollar question': Are the eruptions on the Big Island finally slowing down?]

[Kilauea has created more land in the last 82 days than it has in the past 35 years]

The big toll the eruption has taken on the Big Island visitor industry is one of the reasons why Kim says he's working with county officials to open a public lava viewing area. Officials said once a location is identified, the county wants to get public input before moving forward.

Meanwhile, the eruption in the lower east rift zone continues with no end in sight.

"These last 88 days one of the surprises has been has just the volume of lava that has been erupted," said Janet Babb, a geologist and spokeswoman for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

"When we compare the 50 to 150 cubic meters per second that's being erupted right now to the volume being erupted by the 61g lava flow from Puu Oo, which was the most recent flow until this one, the volume there is between 3 and 4 cubic meters per second. Just the sheer volume of lava that is being erupted now has been quite different and a bit of a surprise to see that much lava erupting on the lower east rift zone."

Observatory officials say there's no indication this eruption will stop any time soon, and they're prepared it could continue for months or years.

"I think for the scientists, just like the people — the residents of Puna — the fact that there is right now no end in sight it does seem pretty overwhelming. Scientifically it's very interesting, but we do understand the impacts and so I think we just as much as everybody would like to see some end in sight so that we could better forecast and let people know when their lives can get back to normal," Babb said.

For the thousands displaced by the eruptions, there's been little in the way of normalcy since May 3.

According to the American Red Cross, 155 people are still staying at either the Pahoa or Keaau shelters. While they don't keep track of the average stay, organizers say there are folks who have been there from the very beginning.

Over 700 have registered with the Red Cross since the eruption began and the shelters opened, but this number doesn't necessarily include people camping outside who did not choose to register. At its peak, that was estimated to be more than 200 people living in tents, on cots or in their cars in either parking lots or the recreation area fields.

According to FEMA officials, 2,466 people have registered for help. The federal government has approved more than $4.9 million in housing aid and other assistance.

Officials say the maximum FEMA gr ant an individual has been awarded is $34,000 and the smallest has been $50, but the average FEMA gr ant amount awarded for this disaster response to date has been $6,596 in housing aid and $3,888 in other assistance.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Disaster Assistance has approved nearly $19 million in low-interest disaster loans for the County of Hawaii.

Officials say of the 597 applications they've received, 172 loans have been awarded so far — most to homeowners and renters, but that number also includes businesses and private non-profits.

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