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Island of Hawaii in a state of emergency following eruption of Kilauea volcano

On Thursday, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted, following around 600 small earthquakes that shook the region since Monday. The largest, a 5.0-magnitude quake, occurred just a few hours before Kilauea’s eruption.

The volcano did not erupt from its summit, but rather from cracks located several miles to the east in the residential community of Leilani Estates. Residents of Leilani Estates – along with the Lanipuna Gardens subdivision – were issued mandatory evacuation orders by Hawaii County Thursday evening, shortly after the eruption was reported. Currently, around 1,700 residents of the affected communities are under mandatory evacuation, though locals fear thousands more could be impacted.

In this Saturday, May 5, 2018 photo, a new fissure erupts in Leilani Estates in Pahoa, Hawaii. Hawaii's erupting Kilauea volcano has destroyed homes and forced the evacuations of more than a thousand people. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)
In this Saturday, May 5, 2018 photo, a new fissure erupts in Leilani Estates in Pahoa, Hawaii. Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea volcano has destroyed homes and forced the evacuations of more than a thousand people. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

Kilauea has erupted a number of times since the historical record began in 1790, though the current eruption is the longest to date. In fact, though the “eruption” of lava Thursday was a new development, the volcano has been continuously active since 1983. In that year, a “rift zone” – an area where a volcano splits apart, allowing for cracks in the rock and the surfacing of magma – near the volcanic crater vent Pu’u O’o erupted. Earlier this week, Pu’u O’o collapsed, which allowed lava to flow into newly-created channels towards residential areas. People close to the volcano described the noise of the eruption as an intense explosion; some compared it to the sound of a bass being played loudly, while others compared it to “rocks in a dryer that were being tumbled around”. Footage taken by a drone captured the crack in Leilani Estates, from which lava was “shooting like a fountain to heights of up to 100 feet.”

Shortly after Thursday’s eruption, Governor David Ige “activated the Hawaii National Guard and issued an emergency disaster proclamation”, and FEMA has begun monitoring for wildfires, power outages, and disruptions to water supply.

Hawaii’s Civil Defense Agency reported Friday morning that the Puna Geothermal plant was “suspended until further notice” due to the nearby lava flow. The Puna Geothermal plant, one of two independent power producers on the Big Island and the only renewable energy plant, has a firm capacity of 38 megawatts, about 13% of the island’s total capacity. In addition to the Puna Geothermal plant’s suspension, Hawaii Electric Light reported that its crews had disconnected power in the areas impacted by the lava flow. Despite these disruptions to the island’s power grid, “Hawaii Electric Light does not expect a power generation shortfall,” the company said.

According to Jim Kauahikaua, a geophysicist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Kilauea’s eruption seems “eerily similar” to a previous eruption of Kilauea in 1955. The 1955 eruption resulted from a similar series of seismic events, and the ensuing eruption caused the collapse of 24 separate volcanic vents, with the lava flow covering nearly 4,000 acres. Given the unpredictable nature of volcanic eruptions, residents and emergency managers will simply have to monitor developments closely and be prepared to take additional action as necessary.


Sources and Further Reading

Hawaii’s Kilauea erupts. Evacuations underway as lava threatens communities. – The Washington Post

Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupts, prompting mandatory evacuations – CNN

Kilauea Volcano Erupts in Hawaii, Forcing Evacuations – The New York Times

Historical Eruptions of Kilauea Volcano – Hawaii Center for Volcanology

Kilauea: Hawaii emergency declared over volcano eruption – BBC News

Hawaii’s famed Kilauea volcano erupts, spewing lava and forcing evacuations – Los Angeles Times

Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano erupts, forcing hundreds to evacuate – Reuters

Power Facts – Hawaiian Electric

Puna geothermal power plant in Hawaii taken offline due to lava flows nearby – Think GeoEnergy

Eruption sends lava soaring 100 feet into the air; evacuations ordered – Hawaii News Now

Geologists say Puna quakes similar to events leading to 1955 eruption – Hawaii News Now