Chronology documents months of lava devastation

Editor’s note: This chronology of the events leading up to and following the 2018 Kilauea eruption in lower Puna was compiled from stories published by the Tribune-Herald.

Tuesday, May 1:


An intrusion of magma into the lower East Rift Zone under Puna sparked a series of minor earthquakes and concerns about an eruption to come. “What we don’t know is if the intrusive event is over, is done and that’s all that’s going to happen or if it’s just paused and might tick back up,” said Janet Babb, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokeswoman.

Wednesday, May 2:

Hawaii County officials advise Puna residents to be prepared to evacuate should a new eruption occur on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone. A series of cracks are reported forming on Kahukai Street in Leilani Estates.

Thursday, May 3:

Lava breaches from a vent on Mohala Street in Leilani Estates. All of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens ordered to evacuate; 30 evacuees reach the Pahoa Community Center. “This is phase one,” says Mayor Harry Kim of the event. Gov. David Ige signs an emergency proclamation and activates the state National Guard.

Friday, May 4:

With six fissures now open in Leilani Estates, fears are exacerbated further by the largest earthquake in the state since 1975. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closes following the quake. The evacuation continues, and Puna Geothermal Venture is closed. President Trump approves Ige’s request for a presidential disaster declaration. The first two homes are reported destroyed.

Saturday, May 5:

Eight vents have now opened; the most recent, fissure 8, will become the primary driver of the eruptive activity in the coming months. More than 200 evacuees have taken refuge at emergency shelters.

Sunday, May 6:

Twenty-six homes are confirmed destroyed, with 10 lava vents now open. Lava covers nearly 400,000 square feet. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park reopens after the May 4 earthquake.

Monday, May 7:

As two new fissures open in Leilani Estates, cracks appear on Highway 130, threatening to cut off major routes around the eruption. PGV reps promise to transport 60,000 gallons of pentane, explosive liquid fuel, away from the facility. The existing fissures are intermittently active, and all are silent come nightfall. Thirty-five homes are confirmed destroyed.

Tuesday, May 8:

Volunteers work to rescue animals left in Leilani Estates. Two more fissures open, bringing the total to 14.

Wednesday, May 9:

A 15th fissure brings lava into Lanipuna Gardens. Ige signs a second emergency declaration, this one to remove the pentane from PGV. Concerns mount about the possibility of water entering the Kilauea volcanic shaft as the lava lake in the caldera recedes, triggering a steam explosion. An ash plume rises over Kilauea summit after a rock fall.

Thursday, May 10:

No lava emerges from the rifts. Cracks on Highway 130 continue to spread, making traversal nearly impossible. A Pahoa man is charged for alleged burglary within the evacuation zone. The pentane is removed from PGV. HVO notes terrain deflation at Kilauea summit as the lava lake recedes.

Friday, May 11:

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closes; it will not reopen for four months.

Saturday, May 12:

Two more fissures open in Lanipuna Gardens; the second, fissure 17, will be the most active fissure for the next several days. Cracks form on Highway 132 as Civil Defense advises Kapoho residents to plan for evacuation.

Sunday, May 13:

Fissure 18 opens. “I guess the best way to describe it is as if I was standing next to a (Boeing) 747 that is full-throttle,” said Puna resident Mark Clawson. “That kind of comes and goes, and is punctuated by blasts — absolutely earth-shaking and deafening blasts — hurling lava bombs of up to a hundred pounds or more hundreds of feet in the area.”

Monday, May 14:

The Norwegian Cruise liner Pride of America cancels trips to the Big Island, a major blow to the island’s tourist industry, already struggling with apprehensive visitors. As lava approaches Highway 132, contingency plans are considered for alternate escape routes. A 19th fissure opens.

Tuesday, May 15:

New fissures emerge as an ash plume rises 12,000 feet over Kilauea summit. HVO geologists say the plume was caused by either water intrusion into the volcanic shaft or rocks falling into the receding lava lake. The County begins work on paving Government Beach Road to provide an alternative escape route from Kapoho. Metal plates are placed across cracks on Highway 130.

Wednesday, May 16:

Cracks form on Highway 11 outside the national park after a series of earthquakes at the summit. More than two dozen quakes occur within 24 hours.

Thursday, May 17:

A new fissure opens in Leilani Estates and is designated fissure 21 after previous fissures are reclassified as single eruption sites. Fissure 22 opens shortly thereafter. Another ash plume rises above Kilauea, reaching 30,000 feet. Ash reaches Pahala and other downwind communities, whose quality of life worsens as volcanic fumes increase.

Friday, May 18:

Lava from fissure 20 cuts off Pohoiki Road, requiring four residents to be airlifted to safety. HVO geologists warn that lava samples show a mix of older magma from a 1955 eruption and newer magma; while the less fluid older magma has dominated the early eruption, the newer magma will be hotter, more fluid and faster. Forty structures are confirmed destroyed. Fissure 23 opens near the site of the first fissure.

Saturday, May 19:

A river of lava, flowing as fast as 300 yards an hour, rushes toward Highway 137 from fissure 20, crossing the highway later that night. Kapoho resident Darryl Clinton, while helping to put out fires in Pahoa, is struck by a “lava bomb” that shatters his leg. Yet another summit explosion triggers an ash plume over Kilauea; geologists note that seismic activity begins to build after each explosion, suggesting the explosions may be a regular occurrence.

Sunday, May 20:

Lava flows into the ocean after having crossed Highway 137 between Pohoiki and Kalapana. The U.S. Coast Guard enforces a 300-meter “safety zone” surrounding the ocean entry, and residents are warned about the dangers of “laze,” a noxious gas containing steam, hydrochloric acid and small particles of volcanic glass.

Monday, May 21:

Lava approaches PGV, leading to redoubled efforts to shut down the last active wells at the facility, a process that involves flooding them with cold water and sealing them with metal caps. Another explosion rocks Kilauea summit.

Tuesday, May 22:

Ten out of 11 PGV wells are successfully quenched. U.S. Geological Survey volcanologists reveal Kilauea is releasing about 15,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day. HVNP and the county discuss reopening the long-closed Chain of Craters Road as an emergency evacuation route should Highway 130 be fatally compromised.

Wednesday, May 23:

Active fissures now reach between 150 and 200 feet high. Steam and heat reaching 130 degrees rising from the plates on Highway 130 stoke fears that the sole access road to Kalapana will be severed by lava.

Thursday, May 24:

Little changes in the state of the eruption. HVO geologists say the lower East Rift Zone is no longer being deformed by the lava intrusion.

Friday, May 25:

Civil Defense confirms 82 destroyed structures since May 3. The floor Halema‘uma‘u Crater has now dropped by 1.3 meters since the beginning of the eruption. One to two steam explosions occur at the summit each day. The Pride of America resumes service to Kona, although not to Hilo. Its cancellations alone are estimated to cost the county $3 million.

Saturday, May 26:

Lava crosses Pohoiki Road at another point, casting more doubt about the continued viability of Highway 132, while lava also enters PGV property.

Sunday, May 27:

Two PGV wells are covered by lava from fissures 21 and 7, by now the most active of the vents. The seals on the wells hold. A new fissure, fissure 24, opens in Leilani Estates.

Monday, May 28:

Fissure 8 reactivates, sending a stream of lava through Leilani Estates that destroys 10 homes. “Kind of disturbingly, some people just refused to leave,” said Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno. The national park has been closed for 18 days straight, its longest closure in history.

Tuesday, May 29:

A lava flow from fissure 8 severs Highway 132, leaving only Government Beach Road as an egress for communities east of the flow. National park staff confirm damage to the park’s water system after weeks of repeated earthquakes. Vog in Kona reaches “unhealthy” levels. Three people, a tourist couple and a Pahoa resident, are cited for bypassing security checkpoints near the lava.

Wednesday, May 30:

Construction work begins on clearing Chain of Craters Road for traffic as lava gradually moves ever closer to the “Four Corners,” the intersection of Highways 132, 137 and Government Beach Road. A Leilani Estates man appears in a viral video to shoot a gun at a group of people observing the eruption within the Leilani subdivision and is arrested. The Pride of America’s first visit to Kona since resuming service is cancelled due to poor air quality.

Thursday, May 31:

Leilani Estates residents who remain in the eastern half of the subdivision are given an ultimatum: Leave the subdivision or possibly face arrest. Fissure 8, meanwhile, spews lava 260 feet into the air.

Friday, June 1:

Lava advances to half a mile from Four Corners. Kapoho residents are ordered to evacuate as a river of lava moving 600 meters an hour approaches. Fissure 8 is now the only vent still active.

Saturday, June 2:

Four Corners is covered by the fissure 8 flow, isolating Kapoho and Vacationland. Green Lake, a small lake nearby, is completely destroyed by the flow. Norwegian Cruise Lines once again cancels its service to the Big Island.

Sunday, June 3:

Residents look on as the lava continues its inexorable push toward Kapoho. Three dozen parcels of land are destroyed, although a tally of the number of structures destroyed is unknown. A 5.5 magnitude earthquake rocks the summit of Kilauea, one of 500 to occur this day alone.

Monday, June 4:

Lava burns through Kapoho, entering the sea and obliterating Kapoho Bay. “It was the marine life that was there,” lamented resident Kyumi Rutledge. “We’ve been out and swam with sea turtles, we swam with manta ray, we saw beautiful eels. Just things that aren’t going to be there any more. It’s a nice thing gone.” Meanwhile, at the summit, the Jaggar Museum is found to have sustained notable cracks after the previous day’s earthquake.

Tuesday, June 5:

The official count of destroyed homes reaches 117, although it is now clear that the vast majority of the approximately 500 homes in Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland are destroyed. Popular tourist destinations Champagne Ponds and the Kapoho Tide Pools also are buried by lava. The June 3 quake is revealed by HVO geologists to not have been a traditional quake, but a pressure explosion caused by the blocked volcanic shaft.

Wednesday, June 6:

“Every house was lost (in Vacationland),” Mayor Harry Kim said. “That’s the unimaginable thing. All this happened in three days, from no threat to 100 percent or less. And that’s just mind-boggling.”

Thursday, June 7:

Hope Services of Hawaii and other organizations work to build temporary housing for eruption evacuees at Pahoa Sacred Heart Church. Fissure 8 remains active, with its lava flow confined within a channel leading to the ocean. The crater floor at Kilauea summit has dropped between 25 and 35 feet. The pressure explosions at the summit appear to occur regularly at 36-hour intervals.

Friday, June 8:

The lava flow from fissure 8 is estimated to cover nine square miles, including the new delta where Kapoho Bay used to be. Janet Snyder, spokesman for Mayor Kim, said the county has partially shifted to a “recovery phase.” The official count of destroyed homes sits at 130, although it is widely understood that more than 600 have been lost after the destruction of Kapoho.

Saturday, June 9:

The national park has now been closed for 30 days, which is taking a toll on the tourist-centered economy of neighboring Volcano village.

Monday, June 11:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency begins its assessment of the destruction.

Wednesday, June 13:

Gov. Ige signs a request for FEMA assistance for evacuees. That letter estimates 455 homes were destroyed in the eruption, $37 million in property damage, and a $14 million loss for the 28 farmers whose operations were halted by the eruption.

Thursday, June 14:

Ige’s request is approved, and FEMA opens its Disaster Recovery Center at Keaau High School.

Saturday, June 16:

Mayor Kim suffers a sixth heart attack after a bout of pneumonia.

Monday, June 18:

Hawaii County Civil Defense confirms 533 homes have been destroyed.

Tuesday, June 19:

The county bandies ideas about a possible public viewing area for the lava river from fissure 8, but no plans are definite. No lava viewing area will be completed during the eruption.

Wednesday, June 20:

The eruption has now produced 145 million cubic meters of lava, more than the last two eruptions combined. The collapse of Halema‘uma‘u Crater has now exceeded 250 million cubic meters.

Thursday, June 21:

The USGS downgrades its alert level for Mauna Loa from “advisory” to “normal.” HVO had set the advisory status three years before in light of increased seismic activity, which has subsided.

Friday, June 22:

National park representatives are doubtful that Jaggar Museum will ever be usable again, as the expanding Halema‘uma‘u Crater swallows crater rim infrastructure. Artifacts have been removed from the deteriorating museum. The county confirms 614 homes destroyed.

Saturday, June 23:

Civil Defense updates the count to 637 destroyed homes.

Monday, June 25:

The lava flow from fissure 8 has shifted southward, and now threatens to burn through Alahanui Park. FEMA reports that 1,442 people have availed themselves of the Disaster Recovery Center. Homes confirmed destroyed: 657.

Thursday, June 28:

The national park allows press into the park for the first time since it closed on May 11. The crater is expanding by more than 10 million cubic meters each day.

Friday, June 29:

The total of destroyed homes is now 668. FEMA confirms it has approved $1.2 million in financial assistance to those affected by the eruption, while the U.S. Small Business Administration has approved nearly $830,000 in loans.

Saturday, June 30:

Twenty small shelters for evacuees are dedicated and opened at Sacred Heart Church in Pahoa.

Tuesday, July 3:

Highway 130 and a portion of Highway 137 are reopened to all traffic. The Hawaii National Guard deactivates its lava task force.

Thursday, July 5:

Only four homes remain in Kapoho Beach Lots. FEMA and the SBA have approved $2.1 million and $5.5 million in aid respectively. A sinkhole opens on Highway 11 due to incessant earthquakes at Kilauea.

Sunday, July 8:

The Tribune-Herald publishes its first front page without lava-related coverage since the beginning of the eruption. The headline of the sole related article effectively sums up the events of the day: “No significant change in volcanic activity.”

Monday, July 9:

The official tally of destroyed homes surpasses 700. “That 700 number isn’t all of it,” Kim said. “It doesn’t show what happened to everyone’s hopes and dreams.”

Tuesday, July 10:

Kim advocates against high-density rebuilding in Lava Zones 1 and 2. The two evacuee shelters still house 219 people.

Wednesday, July 11:

Three more homes in Leilani Estates are destroyed by fissure 8, while an overflow of the lava channel sends lava toward Kua O Ka La Public Charter School, destroying it and also Ahalanui Beach Park. Isaac Hale is the only remaining beach park within the eruption zone, isolated between two flows.

Friday, July 13:

A minuscule island is formed at the northernmost edge of the fissure 8 flow’s ocean entry, likely by a naturally occurring dome forming in the underwater lava flow. The official tally of destroyed homes sits at 706.

Monday, July 16:

A lava tour boat, owned and operated by Shane Turpin, is struck by a “lava bomb” near the Kapoho lava ocean entry. The boat had reportedly navigated to within 250 yards of the entry before an explosion engulfed the boat. “It was immense,” Turpin said. “I had no idea. We didn’t see it.” Twenty-three people are injured, including one woman with a broken femur.

Tuesday, July 17:

Lava inches closer to Isaac Hale Beach Park and the Pohoiki boat ramp, the only boat ramp serving Puna. The lava entry is now 750 meters from the boat ramp. The U.S. House of Representatives approves $4.8 million in federal funds to support a new office for HVO after their previous office at Kilauea summit was abandoned.

Thursday, July 19:

Lava is now 0.3 miles away from Isaac Hale Beach Park. Another sinkhole is formed on Highway 11 following another summit collapse event.

Monday, July 23:

Road crews monitor Highway 11 for greater structural damage to the roadway caused by repeated earthquakes and ground deformation. Lava has not moved demonstrably closer to Isaac Hale for days.

Tuesday, July 24:

The U.S. Senate passes legislation instructing the Department of the Interior to evaluate damage caused by the eruption to the island’s federal infrastructure and visitor industry.

Thursday, July 26:

The sharp decline in Big Island tourism caused by the eruption causes Jack’s Tours, a Hilo-based tour company that had been open for more than 50 years, to announce its closure at the end of the month.

Friday, July 27:

Increased gas emissions are detected from the cracks in Highway 130. The official tally of destroyed homes is now 716.

Monday, July 30:

A brush fire caused by lava burns another four homes near Kapoho.

Tuesday, July 31:

The state and county mull options for circumventing Highway 11 near the national park as the road becomes more degraded.

Thursday, August 2:

The tiny island formed by the lava is now no longer an island, but is now connected to the Big Island by an isthmus of lava.

Friday, August 3:

Work begins on an alternate route around the worst-affected part of Highway 11. Gov. Ige signs another emergency proclamation for the eruption on its three-month anniversary.

Saturday, August 4:

HVO notes that fissure 8’s lava output has decreased, although the significance of this has yet to be determined.

Sunday, August 5:

Not only has the lava output decreased, but the number of summit earthquakes have as well. Where there were once 25 to 35 earthquakes an hour, now less than five an hour is more typical. But “the hazard has not gone away,” says HVO scientist-in-charge Tina Neal.

Monday, August 6:

Neal says it is too early to tell whether the declining activity at fissure 8 indicates the eruption is over, but the fissure’s output has been reduced to weak bubbling within its cinder cone.

Tuesday, August 7:

Mayor Kim announces plans to request $550 million for disaster recovery from the state Legislature.

Thursday, August 9:

The Highway 11 detour project stalls as the county waits to see what will happen next. PGV reveals in an earnings call that reopening the plant would take at least 18 months.

Friday, August 10:

Sulfur dioxide levels on Kilauea are the lowest they’ve been in a decade.

Saturday, August 11:

A black sandbar begins to form around the Pohoiki boat ramp. The ramp is now unusable, but is largely undamaged.

Tuesday, August 14:

Kim’s disaster recovery plan is unveiled, now with a $680 million price tag.

Friday, August 17:

The national park discusses options for reopening after more than 100 days of closure, but damage throughout the park is too extensive to be repaired all at once. Repairing the water system alone would cost $40 million.

Wednesday, August 29:

The emergency evacuation shelter in Pahoa announces it will close in September. A flight over fissure 8 reveals no lava within the fissure. HVO representatives discuss when the eruption can be considered “over.”

Thursday, August 30:

The disaster recovery plan budget has now ballooned to $800 million.

Friday, August 31:

The national park is on schedule to reopen in a limited capacity on Sept. 22 after 135 days of closure.

Tuesday, September 4:

Sulfur dioxide levels from Kilauea now at their lowest in 11 years.

Wednesday, September 5:

It is now considered highly unlikely that Jaggar Museum will be usable again after damage assessments within the national park.

Thursday, September 6:

The county announces plans to reopen Isaac Hale Beach Park, a scheme that includes digging through the cooled lava flow covering Highway 137.

Saturday, September 8:

The mandatory evacuation zone in Leilani Estates is lifted, allowing residents to return to their homes. Meanwhile, the MacKenzie State Recreation Area reopens as well, allowing hikers to walk across the lava flow to Pohoiki and Isaac Hale.

Monday, September 17:

The Pahoa emergency shelter closes. At its peak, 500 people had used the two shelters in Pahoa and Keaau at once. “Since we’ve been here, we’ve seen three births, two deaths, people doing drugs and people completely getting off drugs. We’ve seen houseless people become housed, we’ve seen housed people become homeless. We’ve seen it all,” said Red Cross sheltering lead Paul Klink.

Saturday, September 22:

The national park reopens, with nearly 3,000 people visiting to take in the changes to the landscape. Although lava is gone from Halema‘uma‘u crater, it has more than doubled in size since the eruption began. “We’re elated, we’re ecstatic, we’re all the E’s,” said spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane.

Monday, October 1:

Power has been restored to the majority of active Leilani Estates customers.

Tuesday, October 2:

Mayor Kim says that any project to remove lava from Highway 137 will have to wait until six months have passed since the disappearance of lava from the lower East Rift Zone. Instead, a temporary measure involving a graded path across the top of the flow is possible.


Friday, October 5:

HVO lowers its alert level for Kilauea from “watch” to “advisory.” Surface lava has not been seen for 30 days. This is the first time since 1986 that there has been no surface activity for more than 30 days. HVO says resumption of the eruption in lower Puna is “unlikely in the near-term.”

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