As Lava Flows in Hawaii, Agency Warns, ‘This Is Not the Time for Sightseeing’

Twelve fissures have emerged, sending lava into the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions, where about 1,800 people live. Last week, Hawaii County ordered the subdivisions evacuated. Thirty-five structures have been destroyed, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency. No deaths or injuries have been reported.

The authorities began allowing residents of Leilani Estates to retrieve their belongings on Sunday, while Lanipuna Gardens remained closed because of dangerous volcanic gases. Several nonresidents were turned away at a checkpoint, according to Richard D. Rapoza, a spokesman for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

“People want to go down and get close it,” Mr. Rapoza said. “It’s an interesting experience standing next to red hot lava, to some people.”

In several statements, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency stressed that outsiders should steer clear: “This is not the time for sightseeing.” The agency added: “The residents of Leilani Estates are going through a very difficult time. We ask for your understanding.”

Although volcanic activity has subsided, hazardous fumes continued in the Leilani Estates subdivision, according to the Hawaii Volcano Observatory on Monday. The civil defense agency had also previously warned about the threat of high levels of deadly sulfur dioxide gas in the area.

Residents faced traffic jams as they tried to check on their homes in Pahoa on Sunday.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

The island has been hit by hundreds of earthquakes in recent days, including one Friday that had a magnitude of 6.9. More aftershocks from that earthquake were expected, officials said.

Some residents who were able to return have found their homes in flames.

Heath Dalton, who lives in Leilani Estates and was evacuated on Friday, returned to his home on Sunday morning. He drove a truck and trailer, planning to pick up boxes of his family’s possessions that he had packed earlier. Instead, he found his home engulfed.

He called two neighbors to tell them their houses were gone. “I look at mine and I can see my house burning,” said Mr. Dalton, who was unharmed, as was his wife, Denise, and their young children. “At that point I called my wife and said, ‘There’s no reason for you to come; there’s nothing to get.’”

A lava flow in Leilani Estates.

United States Geological Survey/EPA, via Shutterstock

Fountains of lava have reached heights of 330 feet, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said. One video posted by the observatory showed orange and black lava belching smoke and flames as it crawled down a residential street. Other images taken by helicopter showed molten rock inching across a subdivision, setting fire to the structures it touched.

Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, has been in constant eruption for 35 years, according to the United States Geological Survey. Its lava flows have covered 48 square miles. Mr. Tarson, who started a touring business, Epic Lava Tours, three years ago, on Saturday performed what he described as a “recon mission” to help a friend retrieve a dog that had been left behind in the scramble to evacuate.

Just as he was turning to leave, he said, the earth unzipped in front of him, as a new fissure, the eighth of ten, ripped open the ground.

“It’s like our lives,” he said. “Every day, it moves and changes.”

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