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On May 3, the Kilauea volcano on the island of Hawaii erupted, causing cracks to form along its East Rift Zone. Across Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens, two communities on the island, 15 fissures spread molten lava and toxic sulfur dioxide through residential streets, forcing the mandatory evacuation of 1,700 residents. Due to over 600 small seismic events preceding the eruption that alerted authorities to its possibility and the slow moving nature of the lava, there was plenty of time to prepare for the evacuation.

By Thursday, no deaths or injuries had been reported.

However, despite an emergency evacuation notice being issued, some residents have refused to leave their homes. Greg Webber, a resident of Leilani Estates, told reporters that he would not evacuate until the lava is “an inch from [his] home.” He has watched eight of his neighbors’ homes burn, USA Today reports.

Lava over a road in Hawaii
Resident Sam Knox rides his bicycle to the edge of the road as lava burns across the road in the Leilani Estates in Pahoa, Hawaii, Saturday, May 5, 2018. Hundreds of anxious residents on the Big Island of Hawaii hunkered down Saturday for what could be weeks or months of upheaval as the dangers from an erupting Kilauea volcano continued to grow. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Those evacuated have been left in limbo, staying with family and friends and uncertain of the status of their homes. Certain evacuees of Leilani Estates were allowed to enter the area to retrieve important belongings and pets during the daytime on Sunday and Monday, but none were permitted to stay.

For the time being, it is unknown when the evacuees will be able to return to their homes. By Monday, 35 structures had been leveled by the lava; though there has been a pause in volcanic activity at the fissures, this number is expected to increase due to the unpredictability of lava flow and the possible formation of new openings in the rift.

“It might be at least months of lava flows. Or it might just end now,” says Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist at Denison University. “There’s a likelihood that this is the establishment of a new lava-flow field and that it might be in action for a while.”

This prolonged period of eruption is typical of Kilauea’s fissures. Although not as deadly as explosive eruptions, in the past few decades the flows have decimated communities over the long term. The last structure remaining in the Royal Gardens subdivision was burnt nearly 30 years after the initial eruption of Pu’u ‘Ō’ō-Kūpaianaha in 1983, as lava slowly forced the abandonment of the community as a whole.

Despite the dangers of living in a lava flow zone, some residents of Kalapana Gardens, which has been impacted by a decade-long steady eruption, chose to build their homes on top of the hardened rock. Their reasons ranged from the “Pele energy” to  its rugged beauty.

Kent Napper, a security guard, moved to the Gardens for its low real estate prices and seaside views. Having experienced hurricanes and tornadoes in the southern U.S., he is able to put the dangers of living under an active volcano into perspective. Of the constant wind and threat of lava flows that come from living in such a hazardous place, Napper responds, “You get used to it.”

Sources and further reading:

Hawaii could face volcanic smog, acid rain — and blast projectiles – CNN

Earthquakes rattle Hawaii’s Big Island after Kilauea shoots lava, ‘dangerous’ gas into the air – The Washington Post

 REFILE-New volcano fissures force more evacuations on Hawaii’s Big Island – Reuters

Peril in Hawaii: Lava from Kilauea volcano destroys more homes on the Big Island – USA Today

Why Hawaii’s Newest Eruption Makes Volcanologists Nervous – The Atlantic

The Lava Dwellers, Big Island, Hawai‘i: These People Live on One of the Most Active Volcanoes on Earth – Honolulu Magazine

[Featured image: Lava approaches a city bus stop at the Leilani Estates, Saturday, May 5, 2018, in Pahoa, Hawaii. The Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory said eight volcanic vents opened in the Big Island residential neighborhood of Leilani Estates since Thursday. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)]