PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – A growing river of molten rock flowing from a fissure at the foot of Kilauea Volcano is believed to have demolished scores of additional homes and filled in a small bay at the eastern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island, civil defense officials said on Tuesday.
The latest estimates — up to 80 more structures than previously counted as destroyed by lava smothering two newly evacuated subdivisions — could bring the total number of homes and other buildings lost over the past month to nearly 200.
Such a tally would put property losses from the current upheaval of Kilauea, which entered its 34th day on Tuesday, on par with 215 structures destroyed by lava during all 35 years of the volcano’s last eruption cycle, which began in 1983.
On Monday, the Hawaii County Civil Defense agency was putting the confirmed number of buildings lost to the current eruption at 117, mostly residential properties. About 80 of those were destroyed in the Leilani Estates community, where lava-spouting fissures in the ground first opened on May 3 downhill from the volcano’s eastern flank.
Another three-dozen homes were confirmed destroyed this past weekend when a large lava stream creeping 6 miles (9.7 km) across the landscape reached the far eastern edge of the Big Island, pouring into the ocean at a place called Kapoho Bay.
On Tuesday, a civil defense official told Reuters that at least 60 to 80 more homes were believed to have been devoured as the lava flow, measuring about a half-mile (80-meter) wide and 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.6 meter) tall, inundated the adjacent subdivisions of Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland.
The official said aerial surveillance of the area showed only the northern portion of Kapoho Beach and the southernmost “sliver” of Vacationland — the latter consisting of only about a half-dozen homes — were left unscathed.
Vivian Mark, a resident of Hilo who owns a beachfront vacation rental in Vacationland and is president of the Vacationland Hawaii Community Association, said Vacationland consisted of 240 housing lots and nearly 90 farm lots, but she was unsure how many of those had properties built on them.
Video footage from a helicopter flying over the area showed two seaside homes engulfed in flames, as clouds of white steam and hydrochloric acid fumes billowed from the water where red-hot lava was pouring into the ocean.
Civil defense officials said Kapoho Bay itself had been filled in with lava that extended seven-tenths of a mile (1.1 km) from what had been the shoreline.
“What used to be the bay is now all lava bed, new land, almost a mile (1.6 km) out into the ocean,” the civil defense spokesman told Reuters.
Authorities began evacuating the greater Kapoho area last week and ushered most of the last remaining residents to safety early on Saturday, hours before the lava flow severed all road access to the region. Several holdouts were airlifted by helicopter on Sunday, leaving no more than a handful of people who refused to leave, officials said.
The lava inundating Kapoho is emanating from Fissure 8, the only volcanic vent that was still belching large volumes of molten rock from the ground as of Tuesday, officials said.
Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler