PAHOA (Hawaii) • Hawaii's Big Island remained on high alert yesterday, after the giant Kilauea volcano spewed lava into residential areas, forcing hundreds to evacuate, and a series of earthquakes shook the island.
Scientists and local officials warned residents that seismic and volcanic activity may continue, after a 6.9 magnitude tremor shook buildings on the island's south-east corner last Friday and more lava fissures were reported in a residential subdivision, where residents have been ordered to leave.
"Until we see earthquake activity dying down and the ground stops moving, it's likely that this activity is going to continue," Ms Tina Neal, a scientist in charge at the USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory, said after a community meeting attended by about 300 people.
Some attendees shed tears as they asked officials about looting, travel restrictions and safety precautions at the Puna Geothermal Venture, a power plant in the eruption area.
"Today's been a challenging day for everyone," Ms Neal said.
The meeting came hours after the 6.9 tremor caused buildings to shake at the community centre in Pahoa town, one of two evacuation centres in the area hastily set up after lava started burbling up through fissures in the ground in neighbourhoods nearby.
Friday also saw several more eruptive lava fissures, each several hundred metres long, in the Leilani Estates subdivision in the Puna District, about 20km from the volcano.
The Hawaii County Civil Defence Agency said in an alert that a total of six fissures had occurred. 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 agency said.
Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes and one of five on the island, has been in constant eruption for 35 years. Lava flows from the volcano have covered 125 sq km, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Scientists say it is nearly impossible to predict how long an eruption will last.
Kilauea began spewing lava into residential areas last Thursday after a series of earthquakes over the past week. About 1,700 residents in Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions were ordered to evacuate that day, after public works officials reported steam and lava erupting from fissures in the road, the Civil Defence Agency said.
No injuries or deaths were reported, but Hawaii Governor David Ige activated the Hawaii National Guard to provide emergency help.
Two houses have been destroyed, officials said.
Civil defence officials have warned the public about high levels of sulphur dioxide near the volcano, one reason for the evacuation order. The gas can cause skin irritations and breathing difficulties.