Hawaiian evacuees race home to salvage belongings

Emergency crews said they were poised to evacuate more people as fissures kept spreading from Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea volcano, five days after it started exploding.
Lava from a robust fissure eruption (above) on Kilauea's east rift zone near Pahoa consumes a home, then threatens another. At least 26 homes have already been destroyed. An apparent lull in activity on Sunday allowed some evacuated residents of Leil
Lava from a robust fissure eruption (above) on Kilauea's east rift zone near Pahoa consumes a home, then threatens another. At least 26 homes have already been destroyed. An apparent lull in activity on Sunday allowed some evacuated residents of Leilani Estates to return home during a 10-hour window to rescue pets and other essentials.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Lava from a robust fissure eruption (above) on Kilauea's east rift zone near Pahoa consumes a home, then threatens another. At least 26 homes have already been destroyed. An apparent lull in activity on Sunday allowed some evacuated residents of Leil
Lava from a robust fissure eruption (above) on Kilauea's east rift zone near Pahoa consumes a home, then threatens another. At least 26 homes have already been destroyed. An apparent lull in activity on Sunday allowed some evacuated residents of Leilani Estates to return home during a 10-hour window (above) to rescue pets and other essentials.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PAHOA (Hawaii) • Hawaiians forced to flee repeated eruptions of the Kilauea volcano, which has already destroyed at least 26 homes as it spews rivers of lava and fountains of toxic gases into residential areas, were allowed to make a quick visit home on Sunday to rescue pets, medication and other essentials.

More lava fissures and vents opened overnight in the Leilani Estates area, where lava leapt up to 70m into the air, but no new explosions were reported on Sunday from Kilauea, the state's most active volcano.

So far, no fatalities or major injuries have been reported from the volcano, which began erupting last Thursday, but at least 26 homes have been destroyed, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defence Agency.

"As a realtor, I can tell you that people move here thinking it's paradise, and what they learn is that it's something different," said Ms Jessica Gauthier, 47, who sells properties and manages vacation rentals on the Big Island. "It's a beautiful place to live, but it's not for the faint of heart."

With an apparent lull in the action on Sunday, some of the nearly 2,000 people forced to evacuate their homes when the eruptions began were allowed to return during a 10-hour window, although some neighbourhoods remained off-limits due to dangerous volcanic gases.

"This is not the time for sightseeing," the civil defence agency said on social media, urging others to stay away from the community about 19km from where Kilauea erupted.

The south-east corner of the island was rocked by a powerful magnitude-6.9 earthquake on the volcano's south flank last Friday, the strongest tremor since 1975, and more earthquakes and eruptions are forecast, perhaps for months to come.

Although no significant lava flows have yet formed, additional outbreaks of lava, which can reach temperatures of about 1,150 deg C, were expected.

The rest of the island and state were conducting business as usual, with no impact on flights to tourism centres, state officials said.

"The area where lava is coming to the surface is very far from resort areas," said Mr George Szigeti, president and chief executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Ms Petra Wiesenbauer, owner of Hale Moana Hawaii Bed and Breakfast, evacuated last Friday evening with her two teenage children and her pets.

"Now, we are just trying to make plans for the future," she said. "There is no telling when or if we'll ever be able to go back in."

US Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democrat, called on federal officials to quickly respond to needs such as short-and long-term housing and infrastructure repairs.

Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes and one of five on the island, has been in constant eruption for 35 years. It predominantly erupts basaltic lava in effusive eruptions that mostly flow into the ocean, but occasionally experiences explosive eruptions.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2018, with the headline 'Hawaiian evacuees race home to salvage belongings'. Print Edition | Subscribe