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.”
“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.
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.
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?'"
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)