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Hawaiian volcano is now spewing lava straight into a neighborhood

The "shield" volcano is spurting lava out of at least 10 different fissures.

by Carter Sherman
May 7 2018, 2:54pm

U.S. Geological Survey

Oozing lava has destroyed at least 26 homes on the island of Hawaii over the past few days, as the volcano of Kilauea continues to erupt, and officials don’t know when the lava will stop.

“That number could change,” Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder told the Associated Press of the ruined houses. “This is heartbreaking.”

At least 10 volcanic fissures have so far cracked open in the ground around the volcano and begun to spit lava, sometimes as high as 200 feet in the air, CBS News reported. The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency dubbed the phenomenon “active volcanic fountaining.”

While the volcanoes you may spot at an elementary school science fair are typically tall and cone-shaped, Kilauea is what’s known as a “shield volcano.” Veined with vents of flowing lava, these volcanoes more resemble flattened domes (and, yes, shields). Kilauea’s dome, in the words of Denison University volcanologist Erik Klemetti, is “huge.”

Lava from a fissure slowly advances to the northeast on Hookapu Street after the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 5, 2018 in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)

“The scale of it is hard to comprehend until you’re on the volcano and you realize you can drive 20 miles and still be on the volcano,” Klemetti told the Atlantic Thursday, after just one fissure had split open.

Kilauea is the youngest and most active volcano on the island of Hawaii. It is visible as a bulge on the slope of the giant Mauna Loa volcano. Originally it was thought to be a satellite of its bigger neighbor, but the U.S. Geological Survey says it has its own magma plumbing system more than 60 kilometers deep in the earth.

Kilauea has erupted continuously over the past 35 years, but its latest fissures are appearing in a region that’s remained largely inactive since the 1950s, according to the Atlantic.

Lava from volcanic fissures slowly flows and overtakes structures and trees in the Leilani Estates neighborhood in the aftermath of eruptions from the the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island on May 6, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur gas into communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate. Officials have confirmed 26 homes have now been destroyed by lava in Leilani Estates. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Several earthquakes have accompanied this latest set of eruptions, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and some have been felt as far away as Oahu. One of the earthquakes reached a magnitude of 6.9, making it the largest tremor to hit Hawaii in more than four decades, USA Today reported. Plumes of toxic ash also remain a public health concern for authorities.

The summit lava lake has dropped significantly over the past few days, and, as of the evening of May 6, 2018, was roughly 220m below the crater rim. This very wide angle camera view captures the entire north portion of the Overlook crater. (U.S. Geological Survey)

About 1,700 people have so far evacuated the Leilani Estates, a community on the eastern side of the Big Island. Amber Makuakane, an elementary school teacher, was among those who evacuated; her home was ultimately buried under lava.

"It's really difficult," Makuakane told Hawaii News Now. "My son asks, 'Mommy, can we go home?'"

A man watches as lava is seen sewing from a fissure in the Leilani Estates subdivision near the town of Pahoa on Hawaii's Big Island on May 4, 2018 as up to 10,000 people were asked to leave their homes following the eruption of the Kilauea volcano that came after a series of recent earthquakes. (Photo: Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

Cover image: A column of robust, reddish-brown ash plume occurred after a magnitude-6.9 South Flank following the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 4, 2018 in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)