It’s an uneasy time for about 10,000 residents in the lower Puna area, as they wonder what Kilauea Volcano will do in the days ahead.
According to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency, Pahoa-Pohoiki Road between Highway 132 (Kapoho Road) and Leilani Avenue is closed in both directions due to road damage.
Residents have reported the recent appearance of several cracks on roads in and around Leilani Estates.
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory confirms the cracks are caused by an underlying “intrusion of magma.” Scientists say the cracks are still considered small, and are not producing any steam or heat.
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory says there have been nearly 500 earthquakes in the last couple of days. The tremors are caused by magma flowing through the east rift zone from Highway 130, all the way past the town of Kapoho.
“To have these go for two days, it has now become unnerving,” said Carol Shepard, a Leilani Estates resident.
The quakes were mostly 2.0 magnitude — small, but enough to keep Shepard awake all night.
“I would say one a minute and it’d be like the house would shake it’d be like somebody that weighs 300 pounds came in my living room and jumped up and down,” she said.
Hawaii County Civil Defense is asking residents in lower Puna, which includes Nanawale, Leilani, and Kapoho, to be alert for any updates, in case there is an eruption. Several agencies are already getting evacuation shelters ready, and making sure the roads to get to them are clear. Residents are also asked to be prepared.
“If they have friends and family that they can go stay with in that situation if they got to vacate their houses for some time, make those arrangements, make those contacts,” said Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator.
Kua O Ka La Public Charter School in Pahoa was closed today because of the earthquakes, and will also be closed tomorrow. Geologists say it doesn’t necessarily mean that an eruption is imminent but…
“With the number of earthquakes and the migration down the rift zone it does merit vigilance and due diligence to prepare for the possibility of an eruption,” said Janet Babb, geologist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Geologist say these are similar conditions prior to an eruption that occurred in the same area in 1955. That one lasted nearly three months and shut down the roads in lower Puna.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park says some areas will be closed due to the seismic activity. Here’s an official statement:
Due to the possibility of a new eruption and unstable geologic activity, park management closed 15,688 acres near Kīlauea Volcano’s Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent to the ocean today, including the gravel emergency access road from the eastern gate near Kalapana, to the western gate at the end of Chain of Craters Road, and all land on the makai (ocean) side of the emergency road.
“The recent eruption changes and increased seismicity around the East Rift Zone and Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent may threaten land and the community outside the park. The partial closure in the park is necessary to prevent unsafe travel onto lands under the jurisdiction of Hawai‘i County and to keep people safe,” said Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando. “Most of the park, which is 333,308 acres in size, remains open,” she said.
On Monday afternoon, April 30, the crater within Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō collapsed, and a flurry of low magnitude earthquakes continues to shake the eastern side of the island, particularly communities in lower Puna. A small fissure opened to the west of the vent on Tuesday, May 1, but scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory report that an intrusion of magma is heading eastward from the vent towards Highway 130.
County, State and Federal agencies are preparing for a possible eruption amid continuous earthquakes along the East Rift Zone of Kilauea Volcano. The preparations include the identification of shelters, mobilization of police and other security personnel to ensure residents’ safety, and road crews to ensure access to evacuation routes.
Residents in the lower Puna area should keep themselves informed about the situation, and be prepared to evacuate.
“Should an eruption occur, residents along the East Rift Zone may have little warning,” said Magno, “Residents in that area should be prepared to evacuate.”
The County will keep the community informed about the situation, and stands ready to ensure the safety and security of its residents, he said.
“All agencies have been alerted about the possibility of an eruption,” Magno said. “The risk areas and possible hazards are being identified, and shelters have been identified.”
According to a Civil Defense briefing early Tuesday, a magma dike, or pathway of rising magma, is making its way down to the lower Puna area past Highway 130. An eruption may take place anywhere from Puu Oo to beyond Kapoho to the east.
Swarms of earthquakes, of eight to 10 tremors per hour, are being felt in the area, which could precede an eruption, said USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory research geophysicist Jim Kauahikaua.
Kauahikaua said that the current seismic activity is similar to what preceded an eruption of Kilauea Volcano in the lower Puna district in 1955.
During that eruption which started in February 1955, at least 24 separate volcanic vents opened up and down the volcano’s East Rift Zone, with lava flows covering about 3,900 acres of land. Coastal communities from Kalapana to Kapoho were evacuated, and sections of every public road to the coastline were buried by lava before the eruption abruptly ended on May 26, 1955.
Residents of lower Puna to remain alert and watch for further information about the status of the volcano at www.hawaiicounty.gov/active-alert.
Residents can also receive automatic notices (emails or texts) about volcanic activity through the USGS Volcano Notification Service.