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More fissures erupt in Leilani Estates; large quakes rattle residents

  • A fissure erupts Friday morning at Leilani Avenue and Kaupiili Street. Courtesy of USGS.

Kilauea volcano erupted new fissures Friday inside Leilani Estates and produced the largest earthquake in Hawaii since 1975, causing residents across the island to take cover.

Six fissures had opened by late Friday. Two homes have been confirmed destroyed, and hundreds of residents have been displaced.

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The magnitude-6.9 quake occurred on the volcano’s south flank and was one of several large temblors Friday that shook buildings and rattled nerves.

Some businesses and schools closed for the day, and 14,000 Hawaii Electric Light Co. customers lost power for a few hours in East Hawaii. Landslides also were reported along the Hamakua Coast.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed due to damage from the quake. About 2,600 visitors were evacuated.

The eruption started Thursday inside Leilani Estates on Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone. It followed several days of heightened seismic activity and the collapse of Pu‘u ‘Oo’s cone on Monday. Another ash plume was seen over the cone following the strong quakes Friday.

In Leilani, fissures have been erupting one after another, but not all have been active at the same time. Lava flows have so far remained near the vents, but geologists warn that can quickly change.

Each vent is located around the lower end of the subdivision, which is under a mandatory evacuation since Thursday.

Janet Snyder, spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office, said a command post at the intersection of Pohoiki Road and Leilani Avenue was relocated to the Pahoa Fire Station.

Snyder said the county also was trying to get the remaining residents in Lanipuna to leave. Shelters are open at the Pahoa and Keaau community centers.

In response to the activity, the county closed Highway 132 from Highway 137 to Kaululaau Road, police said.

The county also issued an emergency water restriction for most of lower Puna. A county water line runs under Pohoiki Road.

That area is near the Puna Geothermal Venture power plant, which has been closed and secured, according to the county.

Highway 130 also is closed past Leilani due to hazardous gas emissions from the vents.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates about 1,600 people live in Leilani.

Gas emissions remain hazardous in Leilani. However, county staff said not everyone has left.

No injuries had been reported by Friday evening, though Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said one person may have suffered cardiac arrest as a result of the event.

While county staff say there is a strict no-entry policy, Mayor Harry Kim said the county will try to accommodate people who want to return to their homes if it becomes safe.

“All of us have got to remember this is a tragedy on them, and we have to work with them on how to minimize it as best as possible,” he said.

Nine quakes of magnitude 4 or higher occurred near Kilauea’s East Rift Zone by Friday evening. Three were at least magnitude 5.

Michael Dewey, Suisan Fish Market manager, said the Hilo retail market closed for the day due to tsunami fears. He estimated the water level there receded four to five feet.

“Watching the water recede was concerning, and the decision was made by our safety manager to evacuate the market,” he said. “The 6.9 was pretty intense.”

A voluntary evacuation occurred at Valhalla and Riverside apartments in Hilo following the quakes, Snyder said.

No tsunami was generated, though Civil Defense said small sea level changes were detected of 20 centimeters in Hilo, 40 centimeters in Kapoho, and 15 centimeters in Honuapo.

The 6.9 quake occurred at about the same location as a magnitude-7.2 temblor in 1975 that created a tsunami and killed two people.

Janet Babb, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokeswoman, said the quake was produced as a result of magma causing stress on the flank. Additional strong aftershocks are possible.

Babb said HVO geologists are taking samples of the lava in Leilani that could tell them more about this eruption.

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“The bottom line is the eruption is very dynamic,” she said. “There still can be changes. This is not over.”

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