Lava river threatening homes in Hawaii after Big Island volcano eruption

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Fast-moving lava has crossed a road and isolated about 40 homes below Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, forcing people to be evacuated.

Hawaii County Civil Defense said police, firefighters and National Guard troops were securing the area of the Big Island and stopping people from entering.

The homes were isolated in the area east of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens — two neighbourhoods where lava has destroyed 40 structures, including 26 homes, over the past two weeks.

Hawaii Volcano
As lava activity erupts in the background, cars drive down Hwy 132 in Hawaii (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

County officials have been encouraging residents in the district to prepare for potential evacuations.

Edwin Montoya, who lives with his daughter on her farm near the site where lava crossed the road and cut off access, said he was at the property earlier in the day to get valuables.

“They have to evacuate the people that are trapped up there right now in the same place that we were taking pictures this morning.”

He said no one was on his property, but his neighbour had someone on his land.

“I know that the farm right next to my farm, he’s got somebody there taking care of the premises, I know he’s trapped,” Mr Montoya said.

Mr Montoya said the fissure that poured lava across the road opened and grew quickly.

“It was just a little crack in the ground, with a little lava coming out,” he said.

“Now it’s a big crater that opened up where the small little crack in the ground was.”

Experts are uncertain about when the volcano will calm down.

The Big Island volcano had an explosive eruption at its summit on Thursday, sending ash and rocks thousands of feet into the sky. No one was injured and there were no reports of damaged property.

Scientists said the eruption was the most powerful in recent days, though it probably lasted only a few minutes.

It came two weeks after the volcano began sending lava flows into neighbourhoods 25 miles (40 kilometres) to the east of the summit.

Several open fissure vents are still producing lava splatter and flow in evacuated areas. Gas is also pouring from the vents, cloaking homes and trees in smoke.

The fresher, hotter magma will allow faster lava flows that can potentially cover more area, said Janet Babb, a geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Much of the lava that has emerged so far may have been underground for decades, perhaps since a 1955 eruption.

Meanwhile, more explosive eruptions from the summit are possible.

“We have no way of knowing whether this is really the beginning or toward the end of this eruption,” said Tom Shea, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii.

“We’re kind of all right now in this world of uncertainty.”

It is nearly impossible to determine when a volcano will stop erupting, “because the processes driving that fall below the surface and we can’t see them.” said volcanologist Janine Krippner, of Concord University in West Virginia.

State and local officials have been reminding tourists that flights in and out of the Big Island and the rest of the state have not been impacted.

Even on the Big Island, most tourist activities are still available and businesses are open.

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