PAHOA — State and county officials told Puna residents during a community meeting Friday night to expect even more seismic and volcanic activity.
“Today we’ve had a series of strong shocks and it’s very likely we’ll see more in the coming days and weeks as the (Kilauea) volcano adjusts to the intrusion of magma underground,” Tina Neal, scientist-in-charge of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory told more than 200 people during the 90-minute, standing-room-only meeting at the Pahoa High School cafeteria.
Tensions were somewhat high during the gathering, just hours after several large earthquakes shook the island and within 24 hours of six fissure eruptions in Leilani Estates.
Many attendees were residents who evacuated their homes the night before. Some asked about returning to their properties and several also voiced concerns about the eruption reaching the Puna Geothermal Venture power plant. Officials stressed the power plant was closed and secured.
Officials said they called the meeting to share the current status of the volcanic activity and that they planned to schedule more.
The meeting included comments from nearly a dozen state and local agency officials, including the county police and fire departments, Hawaii Army National Guard and Hawaii County Civil Defense.
“Since this occurred, we’ve had an excess of 75 officers in the Puna District responding to this event,” Police Chief Paul Ferreira told the crowd. “When this kind of thing happens, we pull all our resources together. This is a priority for us.”
Hawaii Army National Guard said it deployed 50 soldiers on the ground as of Friday and set up additional monitors to study wind speeds and directions to get an idea of where contamination will travel.
County officials also asked residents to stay clear of the eruption area and honor an emergency water restriction in place for Leilani Estates, Nanawale Estates, Kapoho and Lanipuna Gardens. They said the sixth fissure erupted Friday near a water line and crews have not been able to get near it because of high levels of toxic gas.
Neal said Friday’s magnitude-6.9 earthquake was “exceptional” but seismic activity is to be expected. Molten material moving in the rift zone is stressing the volcano and quakes relieve that stress, she said.
“The size of today’s event was unexpected and we are expecting aftershocks for days or weeks, so don’t be surprised if you feel more earthquakes,” she said.
The six fissure vents had only produced splatter but Neal said more are expected to open in the days to come. She said they might eventually produce “actual lava flows that move downhill away from the fissure event.”
They might “become larger in duration and produce more volume,” Neal said.
“We’re still seeing accumulation of the material so this event is not over,” she added.
County officials said about 300 people were registered at the Pahoa shelter as of Friday evening and they would open additional shelters should the need arise.
Leilani residents Rich and Diane Bautista said they evacuated at about 7 p.m. Thursday but were staying with friends. They said they came to get more information but left with some questions.
“There was some good info there but I think a lot of the questions that needed to be answered weren’t answered,” said Rich Bautista. “For us, we are concerned about our home, we have propane tanks out there. We leave our home and we’re gone, so is Hawaii Gas going to go out there? The info I got (at this meeting) was they aren’t, but there’s got to be some areas they can get to … If (the propane) explodes and it’s the result of an earthquake it could have maybe been prevented by them being out there.”
“I just feel they don’t really know and that’s not their fault,” added Ainaloa resident Susan Rosler, who also attended to get more information. “They can’t really answer questions because they don’t really know.”
“It is pretty trying times,” Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno told attendees. “Back in Hilo, we are trying to work this incident for you folks. I know it’s tough, we’re working (with) what Pele is bringing down to us.”
Email Kirsten Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.