Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano: When, why and what’s next

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Several earthquakes struck Hawaii after a massive eruption of the Kilauea volcano on the US state’s Big Island. 

About 1,700 residents have been ordered to evacuate their homes and some of them may not return for quite some time.

Here is what we know so far:

What happened? 

  • On May 3, 2018, Hawaii’s Big Island was on high alert after the Kilauea volcano erupted spurting lava near the island’s eastern edge; the eruption was preceded by hundreds of earthquakes. 

  • One earthquake took place on May 4, measured at magnitude 6.9 hitting the south flank of the volcano at 12:33pm (local time) the most powerful to hit the island since 1975.

  • Kilauea volcano did not only produce the strongest earthquake but it also opened nine fissures inside Leilani Estates, sending lava into residential areas. 

  • In a 48-hour period, experts detected 152 quakes of magnitude 2 to 3, and 22 of magnitude 3 within five kilometres of the volcano’s crater. 

  • Around 1,700 people were forced to evacuate, the number of houses destroyed went to 26 on Sunday as scientists reported lava spewing more than 61 meters in the air.  At least two people have died since Thursday, according to reports. 

  • Lava has spread around 36,000 square meters, surrounding the most active fissure. About 240 people and 90 pets spent Saturday night (May 5) at shelters. 

  • “The challenge with this activity is the fact that it occurred in a populated area, now the question is will it stay in that area, will it move to another part and how long will it last?,” Diana Roman, a volcanologist told Al Jazeera.  


  • Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes in the world, continuously erupting since 1983. 

  • Normally the lava flows through subterranean channels to the sea. But the new eruptions are following a different pattern.

  • The USG’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory issued a notice in mid-April stating that there were signs of pressure building in underground magma.
  • The volcano is close near several small Hawaiian towns that could be affected by the eruption.


The state’s Department of Education has announced all public school on the Big Island will open on Monday, May 7 and will operate on normal schedules.

 Air quality will be monitored, if the air quality drops, schools are prepared to shelter-in-place in designated locations.  

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported that fissure eruptions have been continuous. 

The Hawaii Fire Department reported “extremely high levels of dangerous sulphur dioxide gas” in the evacuation area, according to the Hawaii Country Civil Defence Agency.

“The smell of toxic sulphur dioxide is very strong in the air and it gets stronger when the wind blows from the wrong direction,” a Kilauea resident told Al Jazeera. 

Aftershocks have continued seismic activity at Kilauea’s remains elevated.

Scientists say there’s no way to predict when the eruption will end. It could be days, months, or longer. 

  • In the past 12 hours, deformation of the ground in the area suggests a pause in magma accumulation. 

  • Leilani Estates residents will be allowed to continue evacuation to check on their property from 7am to 6pm (local time) each day until further notice.

  • On May 7, County of Hawaii will open an Eruption Information Center in Pahoa to address questions of people affected by the eruption. 

In Pictures 

In this photo released by U.S. Geological Survey, a plume of ash rises from the Puu Oo vent on Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano after a magnitude 5.0 earthquake, Thursday, May 3, 2018, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park [The Associated Press]

Lava from a fissure slowly advances to the northeast on Hookapu Street after the eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano on May 5, 2018 [US Geological Survey via Getty Images]

A crack opened on Pohoiki Road just east of Leilani Street after the eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano on May 5, 2018  [US Geological Survey via Getty Images]

Evacuee Taylor Burns checks her phone in the emergency shelter where she is staying at the Pahoa Community Center on Hawaii’s Big Island on May 5, 2018, in Pahoa, Hawaii [Mario Tama/Getty Images]

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