Ash from the Kilauea volcano rises into the air, near Pahoa, Hawaii, seen in a photo provided Sunday by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who is on active duty with the Hawaii National Guard.
Lava and toxic gases continued to spew in neighborhoods from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano on Sunday, with nine homes destroyed since the eruption began on Thursday and authorities ordering evacuations of 1,800 people.
A tweet on Sunday from the U.S. Geological Survey showed a lava fountain shooting 230 feet into the air in the Leilani Estates subdivision in the island’s east.
Authorities were warning people to be on alert for elevated levels of sulfur dioxide and continued volcanic eruption.
The two rural areas ordered for evacuation, Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens, sit at the eastern base of the volcano, which erupted Thursday, belching lava, damaging buildings and forcing residents to flee their homes. Hundreds of quakes had shaken the island for days when a magnitude-6.9 earthquake hit on Friday, Hawaii’s largest in more than four decades.
On Sunday, officials were planning to let Leilani Estates residents pass a checkpoint to briefly return home to finish evacuating pets and retrieving medicine and vital documents. But authorities warned that could change if conditions worsen.
“We want them to be safe,” said Janet Snyder, a spokeswoman for the county of Hawaii’s Mayor’s Office. “We’re not going to let them in if we’re not sure they’re going to be safe.”
Residents of Lanipuna Gardens, however, were being kept away from their neighborhood due to dangerous volcanic gases, officials said.
After a few hours of calm on Saturday, two more cracks emerged Saturday night, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, bringing the total of massive fissures in the ground to nine by Sunday morning.
More than 200 people were in shelters as of Sunday morning.
Ms. Snyder said the number of people in Red Cross-run shelters likely wasn’t an accurate reflection because many who fled the lava flows were staying with friends or family, or sleeping in cars. Some ordered to evacuate hadn’t done so.
It isn’t clear how many people stayed behind in the neighborhood and what their conditions were. Video from the neighborhood shared on social media showed smoke and lava bubbling through a giant crack on a paved road.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige, who visited two evacuation shelters on Friday, said in a statement it was a “frightening and unpredictable time.”
“I met many people who are frightened and deeply concerned about losing everything they’ve worked for all their lives,” he said. “I’ve heard from people who have already lost their home.”
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said the fissures in Leilani Estates have resulted in “dangerously high concentrations” of sulfur dioxide, and warned people in the area of the threat to their health. Asthma patients, infants, seniors, and expectant mothers are particularly vulnerable, the agency said.
Gary Hoffeld, a resident who lives in a subdivision about 8 miles downwind of Leilani Estates, said parts of that neighborhood were safe from slow-moving lava flows and many make calculated choices to stay home and monitor the situation because they believe they are safe for now.
“The lava doesn’t chase you down the road like in the movies,” said Mr. Hoffeld. “It moves slow. You can see where the real threat is.”
Mr. Hoffeld said a friend who lives in Leilani Estates had remained in her home despite the evacuation order because she felt she wasn’t in any danger. The smell of sulfur has drifted far, though, piercing Mr. Hoffeld’s own neighborhood miles away after “nonstop earthquakes” for two days.
The largest tremor on Friday shook up his home, and with officials warning of more to come, Mr. Hoffeld and his family are following alerts by phone and television, he said. He has picked up knocked-over picture frames and vases around his house, wrapped them in blankets and left them on the floor. “We’re not putting them back up yet,” he said. “Better safe than sorry.”
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Appeared in the May 7, 2018, print edition as ‘Volcano Evacuees Hope to Go Home.’