Hawaii's most active volcano just blew

Kilauea sent sulphur ash into the air and lava steaming toward residential neighborhoods.

Hawaii is getting a reminder that the eight major volcanic islands on the archipelago are still being formed.

On Thursday the Kilauea volcano, the youngest and most active volcano on Hawaii’s biggest island, blew up sending plumes of ash and sulfur high above the island and lava flowing into residential neighborhoods.

Residents got a sign the eruption was coming when a series of earthquakes — one a 5.0 on the Richter scale — rattled the island Thursday morning. The eruption sent a plume of ash up into the air above the volcano. By evening, residents were spotting lava flowing down onto their streets. The flow of lava started around 4:30 p.m. on Thursday. People packed up their belongings and seeking shelter.

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“White, hot vapor and blue fume” came out of a crack in the ground, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which has been closely monitoring the activity. “Spatter began erupting shortly before 5 pm.”

Locals reported startling sights and sounds. “It sounded like there were rocks in a dryer that were being tumbled around,” said Jeremiah Osuna, who lives near Leilani Estates, one of two subdivisions evacuated, told the Washington Post. “You could hear the power it of it pushing out of the ground.”

Preparing for an eruption

The volcano had been under close watch for an eruption for the last few days, as numerous small earthquakes shook the area, a sign of an upcoming volcanic activity. Kilauea finally came through on Thursday, as expected.

The volcano has erupted regularly over the course of the last century. One of the most damaging flows, in 1960, overran a number of evacuated communities and resorts. In his disaster proclamation, Governor David Ige said that this flow looks like it could shape up similarly. The flow is “exhibiting similar characteristics” to that eruption, he said.

Governor Ige activated the state's emergency response system and mobilized the national guard to help with the evacuations. But Hawai’i knows volcanoes well, and has a robust emergency response system in place to handle eruptions. So far, no one is known to have been hurt by the eruption.

Evacuations

The eruption prompted the evacuation of about 1,700 residents in two subdivisions, Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens. The Hawaii County civil defense agency reports “extremely high levels of dangerous Sulfur Dioxide gas” in the evacuation area.

The Hawaii government also banned drones from capturing footage in the area, though that apparently hasn’t stopped everyone from breaking out their little remote-controlled flying video cameras:

The video shows lava flowing down major roads and incinerating trees in its path.

Past eruptions have lasted weeks, or even months, and those who have evacuated have no idea how long they’ll be out of their homes. Though things look pretty tame right now — lava flows had only advanced about 33 feet from the fissure, according the latest geological survey report — an eruption that started in 1969 didn’t end until 1974, and “pumped out enough lava to pave a road to the Moon,” according to the National Parks Service.

Cover image: In this photo released by U.S. Geological Survey, a plume of ash rises from the Puu Oo crater on Hawaii's Kilaueaa Volcano, Thursday, May 3, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)