Fast-moving lava triggers additional evacuation notices for Leilani Estates residents

  • U.S. Geological Survey photo An aerial view of a weak lava entry shortly after 1 p.m. Monday. Only residual lava was flowing into the ocean, producing small and intermittent “laze” plumes.

  • U.S. Geological Survey

    A view of the fissure complex in lower Puna, looking uprift (to the southwest) at about 1:15 p.m. Monday.

  • U.S. Geological Survey photo Lava fountains from fissure No. 8 at about 7 a.m. Monday. The eruption rate at fissure 8 decreased significantly later in the morning.

  • U.S. Geological Survey photo An active lava flow crosses Pohoiki Road at about 7 a.m. Monday.

The county’s Civil Defense chief said despite a door-to-door effort Sunday night to warn Leilani Estates residents to evacuate immediately during a lava threat that ended up destroying 10 homes, not all were receptive.

“Kind of disturbingly, some people just refused to leave,” Talmadge Magno told reporters during Monday afternoon’s briefing. “It kind of gives us terrifying insight into what’s going on out there. We had one gentleman that had to be … rescued. His only way out was through his back door, through the forest. People, we tell ’em, they need to be prepared. If they’re gonna go to that extent, they need to know their escape routes.

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“In that case, the lava was moving fast and it could come again. So these people, Leilani residents and in surrounding areas that are putting themselves in this situation, they need to be very prepared.”

Magno’s warning proved to be prophetic as another evacuation notice was issued by Civil Defense at about 6 p.m. Monday after Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported a fast-moving pahoehoe lava flow from fissure No. 8 advancing on Nohea and Kupono streets, north of Leilani Street. There were reports of lava fountains on Moku Street, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense officials, who warned anyone in the area from Pomaikai Street east to leave the area immediately.

An earthquake with a preliminary 4.1-magnitude hit at about 5:40 p.m. According to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, it was centered about 6 miles south of Volcano village at a depth of roughly 0.6 miles, and was not strong enough to generate a tsunami.

In addition to the homes destroyed by the lava flow from fissure No. 7, two production wells at Puna Geothermal Venture, KS-6 and KS-5 were inundated by lava Sunday night. The flow stalled halfway onto the well pad, sparing other wells from a similar fate, at least for the time being, Magno said.

Magno said no hydrogen sulfide gas was detected in the atmosphere at the inactive power plant because of the plugging of the wells prior to the lava’s arrival.

“It’s holding, so we’re very happy that it went that way,” he said. “We were ready, as far as our monitoring system, to make sure if any gases were leaked out, we picked them up. I know (Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator) Tom Travis, that task force he’s running, and PGV, they’re working hard to make sure everything stays stabilized.”

Fissure 7 has since gone dormant, according to HVO geophysicist Jim Kauahikaua, but fissure 8 started producing quick-flowing lava that later slowed down, but not before twice crossing Pohoiki Road.

Although Monday, at least during the daylight hours, didn’t see the amount of private property damage from Kilauea volcano lava that occurred Sunday, there was still plenty of activity in the volcano’s lower East Rift Zone, Kauahikaua said.

“The main producer is a reactivated fissure 17 and 21,” he noted. “Those vents have the highest lava flows at the moment, and we’re waiting to see if it produces any lava flows off that massive mound of lava that they have all built up in that area.”

Lava was still entering the ocean near MacKenzie State Recreation Area as of Monday afternoon, but at a far reduced rate.

“There were two ocean entries,” Kauahikaua said. “There is only one right now, but it is being fed by residual oozing because the channels are empty, mostly, from the upper vents down to the ocean.”

Hawaii Electric Light Co. was working Monday to reroute power to customers in the lower Puna area and warned customers that they might lose power temporarily while the switching occurred.

“If the line that goes down (Highway) 132, if that’s taken out (by lava), instead of losing power to all of lower Puna … the power outage would be limited to the area of Kapoho, Vacationland, along the corridor of 132,” Magno said about the work being done by the power utility.

HELCO said in a written statement that if lava breaches 132, “the areas in and around Kapoho will experience an extended power outage.” The utility warned that power won’t be restored in the Kapoho area until a full assessment can be completed and alternative plans to serve this area are implemented, once it is safe for company personnel to do so.

Asked if lava was headed toward 132, Kauahikaua replied, “No.”

Steve Brantley, HVO’s deputy scientist in charge, said the main vent in Halema‘uma‘u crater at Kilauea’s summit “continued to erupt intermittently in the past day.”

“There were a couple of stronger events (Monday) morning, right around 4:35 and also at 6:30, that generated an ash plume of up to about 10,000 feet and 12,000 feet, respectively,” Brantley said. “Also earthquakes are occurring at a higher rate at the summit area. These are smaller earthquakes, magnitude 2s and 3s. … These events, we think, are associated with the adjustment within the volcano as the summit area subsides in response to more magma leaving the summit reservoir than is coming into it from below.”

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said Monday was the 18th day the park was closed because of the summit eruptions.

“This has now exceeded the longest park closure to date, which was back in October of 2013 during a federal government shutdown,” Ferracane said. … It is a very unsafe place to be, the summit of Kilauea and its surrounding vicinity.”

Jon Jelsema, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said diminished trade winds mean “the potential for the vog or haze from the Leilani Estates area to (move) northwestward, and that could eventually bring bad air quality into the Pahoa region, as well as Mountain View and … the Hilo area.”

The trades are forecast to return tonight.

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Community meetings are scheduled for 5 p.m. today in the Pahoa High School cafeteria and at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Ka‘u High School’s multipurpose room in Pahala.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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