Evacuations ordered as lava erupts in Leilani Estates

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Smoke rises from Leilani Estates as residents evacuate and lava crosses Mohala Street Thursday evening. Mahalo to Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and Andrew Richard Hara.
  • Screenshot of Facebook video by Jeremiah Osuna Drone footage shows lava spilling from the fissure into the woods and onto roadways in the Leilani Estates subdivision of Puna.
  • Screen shot of Facebook video by Maija Stenback Lava fountains in Mohala Street on Thursday afternoon in Leilani Estates.
  • Courtesy of HAWAII COUNTY
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Smoke rises from Leilani Estates as Hawaii Fire Department's Chopper One flies over the scene Street Thursday evening. Mahalo to Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and Andrew Richard Hara.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Smoke rises from Leilani Estates as residents evacuate and lava crosses Mohala Street Thursday evening. Mahalo to Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and Andrew Richard Hara.

A volcanic eruption forced the evacuation of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens in Puna on Thursday after fountains of lava burst through cracks in the middle of a residential street.

As of 7 p.m., lava from the vent on Mohala Street extended 150 to 200 yards, said Mayor Harry Kim, and was moving through forested lots adjacent to homes. Shelters were open at the Pahoa and Keaau community centers, and the state deployed the Hawaii National Guard.


While the eruption initially was contained to one vent in Leilani Estates, Kim cautioned additional areas could rupture.

“Remember, this is phase one,” said Kim, who was county Civil Defense chief during eruptions that covered Royal Gardens subdivision and later Kalapana in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“We don’t know what will happen next, if anything does. I’ve seen so many dramatic changes.”

Resident Ikaika Marzo, who was on the scene, said he saw “tons” of lava “pumping” from a fissure in the ground, filling a space more than 100 yards wide.

The eruption followed days of heightened seismic activity along Kilauea’s East Rift Zone, where magma has been intruding since Monday. Magma found its way to the surface Thursday through cracks in the road that initially drew curiosity, and later panic, as it began to release steam and the smell of sulfur. Lava followed shortly afterward.

Kim said county workers monitoring the cracks were on scene when lava emerged. No one was injured.

Civil Defense immediately ordered an evacuation of half of Leilani Estates but soon extended it to the entire subdivision and the adjacent Lanipuna neighborhood. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Leilani has a population of about 1,600 people.

Kim said the Hawaii National Guard will share a command post with the county at the Pahoa police station. The county and state were issuing emergency proclamations.

As of press time, there were no reports of injuries or homes lost.

Gov. David Ige told the Tribune-Herald late Thursday that the state will provide the county any aid needed, including helicopter support and security via the National Guard.

“As you know, there’s no one better than Mayor Harry Kim in responding to the needs of the community,” he said. “With the resources the state can bring to bear, we will help him and his first responders.”

Residents were told to leave via the mauka end of Leilani Estates.

The intersections of Highway 132 and Pohoiki Road, Highway 137 and Pohoiki Road, and Highway 130 and Leilani Boulevard were closed to nonresidents as the evacuation proceeded.

People trying to enter the subdivision to see the lava were frustrating evacuation efforts, but overall the evacuations were going well, Kim said.

By 8 p.m. there were about 30 people present at the Pahoa Community Center, though many more were expected.

Shelter manager Keoni Dela Cruz said more than 2,000 people were expected to register throughout the course of the night, “depending on the spread and as more areas get evacuated.”

Leilani residents Dora and Clyde Wheatley, who were at the shelter, said they initially did not plan to leave.

“I thought it would be somewhere else,” Dora Wheatley said, standing outside their pickup truck with their Rottweiler mix, Chumlee. “But the second (earthquake) that came on (Thursday) was a (magnitude 5.0), and that’s when I smelled the sulfur and my son-in-law walked down and said he could see the lava. And we only had 20 minutes. And if I wanted to stay, I couldn’t stay.”

Evacuees are advised to bring an emergency evacuation supply kit, including medicine, food and other essential items. Caged pets are allowed at the Pahoa Community Center, though no pets are being admitted at the Keaau Community Center, county officials said.

The eruption is the first time lava has threatened residents since the “June 27th” flow entered Pahoa in 2014, where it destroyed one home and nearly crossed Highway 130 before stalling.

Luana Jones, who lives on Pohoiki Road adjacent to Leilani Estates and was evacuating Thursday, called it “surreal.”

“We keep wondering, ‘Is this really happening?’” she said. “Tutu Pele’s gonna do what she’s gonna do.”

Her neighbor, Dawn Javellana, said she already evacuated to a hotel in Hilo earlier that day after cracks formed on the road near her house.

She said she has lived there since 1989 and endured the 2014 lava threat.

“I don’t know what we’re going to come home to,” Javellana said. “You never expect to see that kind of fountaining outside the crater. To see that so close to home, I never could have expected it.”

Puna Geothermal Venture, a nearby geothermal power plant, was being shut down Thursday following the eruption. Hazardous materials were being removed.

Thursday’s eruption followed a magnitude-5.0 earthquake near the rift zone that rattled residents around the island and caused another crater collapse at Pu‘u ‘O‘o, which spewed an ash cloud that could be seen for miles. A previous collapse of the crater floor preceded the magma intrusion Monday.

County officials say residents should listen to the radio for updates and report any unusual events to Civil Defense at 935-0031.

Reporter Kirsten Johnson contributed to this report.


Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

Email Mike Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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