PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Emergency authorities battling lava flows and gas erupting from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano warned some residents to “go now” as a new fissure opened and more structures were destroyed.
Kilauea has destroyed 26 homes and forced 1,700 people to leave their residences since it erupted on Thursday, spewing lava and toxic gas from volcanic vents in a small area of Hawaii’s Big Island.
A new fissure opened Sunday night in the Leilani Estates area some 12 miles (19 km) from the volcano, prompting a cellphone alert for residents to leave homes to avoid sulfur dioxide gas, which can be life threatening at high levels.
So far no fatalities or major injuries have been reported from the volcano, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.
Evacuees from Leilani Estates were allowed to return for pets, medications and to check property on Sunday. Some, including Jeremy Wilson, found homes surrounded by fissures hundreds of feet long.
“My house is right in the middle,” said Wilson, a 36-year-old social worker who turned back when he saw steam coming from cracks in the road.
As of 3:30 a.m. local time (1330 GMT), 161 people were housed at two evacuation centers on the island, the Hawaii Civil Defense Agency said.
The semi-rural wooded area of Leilani Estates had become a magnet for newcomers to Hawaii’s Big Island who were prepared to risk living near an active volcano for more affordable real-estate.
Eruptions of lava and gas were expected to continue, along with aftershocks from Friday’s 6.9 magnitude earthquake, the largest in the area since 1975, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
The observatory’s website showed 142 earthquakes in the past 24 hours as 3:45 a.m. (1345 GMT) on Monday.
Geologists said the activity looked like an event in 1955 when eruptions continued for 88 days in the area and covered around 4,000 acres (1,620 hectares) with lava.
Jessica Gauthier, 47, said she and other local real estate agents had seen vacation renters cancel their reservations, though the volcanic activity is far from tourist centers.
“There’s no way to know that if you’re sitting in your living room in Ohio and watching the national news,” she said.
Gauthier predicted business would pick up as a new kind of visitor began to appear.
“Within a month we’ll start getting lava tourists,” she said.
Hawaii authorities asked lava watchers to keep away, saying, “This is not the time for sightseeing.”
Reporting by Terray Sylvester, additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; writing by Andrew Hay; editing by Toby Chopra and Jonathan Oatis