UPDATE: 5:40 p.m.
The toll of destroyed structures continued climbing throughout the day and officials fear that the lava is not finished with the Leilani Estates subdivision.
As of about 5 p.m., Hawaii County Civil Defense officials had confirmed 30 destroyed structures, most of which are homes. This is up sharply since late Saturday when the toll was at five homes. Civil Defense said lava fissure No. 8, by Luana Street and Leilani Avenue, appears to have done the most damage today.
Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens, with roughly 700 homes and 1,800 residents, are under mandatory evacuation orders due to the ongoing lava eruption and its dangerous volcanic gases.
Residents were allowed back in temporarily today to retrieve animals, medication, important documents and other essentials. At around 5 p.m., Hawaii island police shut the initial screening point for residents at Highways 130 and 132 but allowed vehicles already in line to proceed to their homes. Residents were instructed to leave immediately after they retrieve their essential belongings and pets.
The lava eruption began Thursday evening and has been accompanied by heavy seismic activity, including Friday’s magnitude-6.9 earthquake and hundreds of smaller aftershocks.
Geologists say the increased seismic and volcanic activity shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.
Of the increasing toll of destroyed homes, Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder said, “That number could change. This is heartbreaking.”
NEW VIDEO: Breathtaking yet saddening aerial footage of the lava flowing into the Leilani Estates subdivision east of Mount #Kilauea in Hawaii.
(Video credit: Paradise Helicopters) pic.twitter.com/dGcr3c3Jc2
— WeatherOptics (@weatheroptics) May 7, 2018
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park partially reopened today at 3 p.m. after closing following Friday afternoon’s magnitude-6.9 earthquake and its many aftershocks.
“Our primary objective is the safety of employees, park partners and visitors,” said park Superintendent Cindy Orlando. “The limited opening allows us to respond to new volcanic and seismic events should they occur and the closures that remain are necessary to keep people out of dangerous and unassessed areas. Visitors should expect changing conditions and be prepared for unannounced closures.”
The U.S. Geological Survey has reported about 500 earthquakes in the Kilauea Volcano area since Friday afternoon’s magnitude 6.9, which was centered in Leilani Estates where the lava outbreak is occurring. Frequent small aftershocks continue today.
Park officials said the following areas are open: The Entrance Station from Highway 11 to Jaggar Museum is open from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Jaggar Museum will close at 8 p.m. (the outdoor overlook will remain open until 10 p.m.); Kilauea Visitor Center is open from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m; Sulphur Banks Trail; Steam Vents parking lot; Crater Rim Trail is open from Kilauea Overlook to Jaggar Museum only; the Entrance Station to the 1969 lava flow near Mauna Ulu; Mauna Ulu to Puuhuluhulu (Napau Trail is closed past Puuhuluhulu); Escape Road from Highway 11 to Mauna Ulu; Mauna Loa Road from Highway 11 to the Mauna Loa Lookout and Kipukapuaulu.
All other park area are closed.
USGS volcanologist Wendy Stovall told the Associated Press that lava could eventually be channeled to one powerful vent while others go dormant, as has happened in previous Hawaii eruptions. Lava has spread around 387,500 square feet surrounding the most active fissure, though the rate of movement is slow.
Stovall said there is no indication when the lava flow may stop.
HILO >> The number of homes destroyed by lava in Leilani Estates has climbed to 26, from the 21 reported less than two hours ago, Hawaii County Civil Defense officials announced.
American Red Cross officials also said that as of noon today, there were about 250 people at the Pahoa Community Center and 15 people at the Keaau Community Center shelter. About 40 Red Cross volunteers are assisting evacuees, including distributing toiletries, towels, blankets, and snacks, as well as offering mental health and health services.
Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder said this afternoon that sulfur dioxide levels in the Leilani Estates are elevated from this morning.
She said officials are not sure exactly how many of the estimated 1,800 residents in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions have actually evacuated.
“You’ve got people who are sheltering with their relatives, friends, in their cars. So it’s very hard for us to know how many people actually did evacuate,” she said. There also are people who have stayed in the two subdivisions “for whatever reason,” she said.
“We are urging them to evacuate immediately because of elevated (sulfur dioxide) levels,” Snyder said. “The air quality is very bad.”
A total of 21 homes have been destroyed by the lava eruption in Leilani Estates, Hawaii County officials confirmed this afternoon. The latest update was a sharp increase from the nine homes confirmed earlier today.
The Hawaii County Fire Department provided the lastest toll after conducting an aerial survey today.
Desite the destruction, Leilani Estates residents are being allowed to return to temporarily to retrieve pets and other essentials. No children are allowed in the area.
Geologists expect the ongoing lava outbreak from Kilauea volcano that is inundating Leilani Estates to continue for days if not weeks to come.
Just before 1 p.m. today, scientists at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said, “Since late last evening, fissure eruptions have been continuous, and a lava flow has advanced northward about 0.6 miles.”
”Areas downslope of erupting fissures are at risk of lava inundation,” they said. “The general area of Leilani Estates remains at the greatest risk. However, as the eruption progresses, other areas of the lower East Rift Zone may also be at risk.”
They also warned of the health hazards from high levels of volcanic gas, including sulphur dioxide, and smoke from burning houses and burning asphalt is a health concern and should be avoided.
PAHOA >> The onslaught of lava into Leilani Estates in lower Puna continues into its fourth day with no end in sight.
As of early this afternoon, the toll of Kilauea volcano’s wrath is nine destroyed houses in the rural subdivision, where at least nine active vents have been confirmed. About 1,800 residents of Leilani Estates and neighboring Lanipuna Gardens remain under evacuation orders.
Overnight, the American Red Cross hosted about 225 people, with roughly 90 pets, at the Pahoa Community Center shelter and 15 people at the Keaau Community Center shelter. The shelters opened soon after the Thursday evening lava outbreaks at Leilani Estates and saw a surge of more evacuees after Friday afternoon’s magnitude-6.9 quake and its hundreds of smaller aftershocks.
The increased seismic and volcanic activity is expected to continue for days, if not weeks, to come.
Leilani Estates residents are being allowed back in temporarily today, but only to take care of essential tasks, like retrieving or caring for animals, and gathering essential documents and items. Those who return are expected to leave by 6 p.m., Hawaii County officials said.
Traffic backups on Highways 130 and 132 are due to Leilani resident-only screening.
The upheaval and uncertainty has left the exiled southeastern Big Island residents filled with anxiety. While some residents were initially willing to withstand the lava threat at first, Friday’s 6.9-magnitude quake — the largest in Hawaii in 48 years — scared many to heed the evacuation order.
Tesha “Mirah” Montoya, 45, said toxic fumes escaping from the lava vents weren’t enough to make her family evacuate, but the tipping point were the earthquakes.
“I felt like the whole side of our hill was going to explode,” she told the Associated Press. “The earthquake was what made us start running and start throwing guinea pigs and bunnies in the car.”
Montoya, her husband and daughter don’t know how long they will be away from the three-story octagonal house they built nearly 20 years ago from a patch of “raw jungle.”
“My heart and soul’s there,” she said in a phone interview from a cabin on the north side of the Big Island, where the family had hunkered down. “I’m nothing without the land. It’s part of my being.”
County officials continue to issue dire warnings to the public about the dangers of the lava and its potentially deadly gases.
The Hawaii County Fire Department warned residents of “extremely dangerous air quality conditions due to high levels of sulfur dioxide gas in the evacuation area. Elderly, young, and people with compromised respiratory systems are especially vulnerable.” Officials say the high levels detected are an immediate threat to life for anyone exposed, and that “first responders may not be able to come to the aid of residents who refuse to evacuate.”
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory confirms that the volcanic eruption continues in Leilani subdivision in lower Puna. Scientists say at least 10 active volcanic vents are on Makamae, Kaupili, Mohala, Kahukai Streets and Pohoiki Road, and two new vents have opened near Makamae and Leilani, and on Kahukai Street, but there is no activity at Puna Geothermal Venture at this time. One of the newest vents erupted about 8:30 p.m. Saturday and was soon sending lava fountains as high as 230 feet, according to U.S. Geological Survey scientists.
Government officials are also have notified the public of the following:
>> The Department of Water Supply issued an emergency water restriction for Leilani Estates, Kapoho Beach Lots, Lanipuna Gardens, Pohoiki Bay Estates, Green Lake Farm Lots, Vacationland and all customers on Pohoiki and Kalapana Kapoho Beach Roads. Customers must restrict water use to health and safety needs only, the department said. Water spigots have been installed near the entrance of Lava Tree State Park and a water tanker has been placed in Vacationland for public use, officials said.
>> The U.S. Postal Service said evacuated residents can pick up their mail at the Pahoa Post Office, and that the downtown Hilo Post Office is closed until further notice due to possible structural damage to the Hilo Federal Building at 154 Waianuenue Ave. after Friday’s magnitude-6.9 quake. Downtown’s Post Office box customers can pick up their mail from the will call window at the Hilo Main Post Office at 1299 Kekuanaoa St. from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Customers using this service must present photo identification to pick up their mail.
>> Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park evacuated all visitors and non-emergency staff. The quakes triggered rock slides on park trails and crater walls. Narrow fissures appeared on the ground at a building overlooking the crater at Kilauea’s summit.
>> The University of Hawaii at Hilo and Hawaii Community College both closed campuses and a long stretch of Highway 130, one of the main arteries through Puna, was closed because of the threat of sulfuric gas.
Hawaiian Electric Light Co., meanwhile, said power has been interrupted to Leilani Estates due to lava affecting power lines. Company crews are standing by and monitoring the situation, officials said.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporters Dan Nakaso, Kevin Dayton and William Cole, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.