Kilauea Eruption Buries Hundreds of Homes

An ongoing, month-long volcanic eruption in Hawaii is claiming more and more houses on Hawaii’s Big Island, which is home to about 200,000 people in total. A broad, slow river of lava pouring from the Kilauea volcano, as shown by a flight by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), is engulfing a coastline that once hosted vast forests and hundreds of homes, including both vacation rentals and permanent residences. By early May, new fissures in the earth about a dozen miles away from the eruption opened up in the Leilani Estates subdivision of Puna District in Hawaii County. These fissures, resulting from the breakup and shift of rock due to magma flow, spew out lava from under the ground in what can be described as a plume of fire. 

As officials had urged residents of the southeastern part of Hawaii’s Big Island to evacuate, about 2,500 have been displaced from their homes. As many as 300 have taken refuge at community centers. Now, hundreds don’t even have homes to go back to. The volcanic eruption is especially unsettling and hard-hitting because of its slow nature – people have no choice but to sit, wait, and watch as the destruction from the outpouring of lava ensues. In the meantime, they must try to return to some state of normalcy as the eruption continues on for weeks or even months.

As of now, the flow of lava from Fissure 8 is crawling into the Kapoho Bay. a once-beautiful and scenic area that was a popular tourist site for snorkeling. This is resulting in the growth of a delta toward the sea, filling in the bay with new rock. The flow is also emitting a dangerous mixture of steam, a toxic gas such as sulfur dioxide, and tiny particles of volcanic glass, known as “laze”, or a combination of lava and haze.

The wall of laze covers about half a mile in width. People exposed to this substance can experience lung damage, eye and skin irritation, and even death. The sharp increase in sulfur dioxide levels has closed schools surrounding the town of Pahoa, located 25 miles east of the volcano, and has driven National Guard troops stations in the town to wear gas masks. Fortunately, no fatalities from the eruption have been recorded as of yet.

The eruption has had major implications not just for residents, but for Hawaii’s economy. The Big Island depends on tourism as its main source of revenue. Cruise ships are making sure to avoid stopping at Hawaii’s Big Island, while hotel rooms and guesthouses will remain vacant throughout the summer despite slashing their prices. According to Hawaii’s National Park Service, the closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island has cost about $166 million as of late May, not even accounting for the loss of revenue by those whose jobs depend on the tourism industry.

Volcanic eruptions can be seemingly endless. Kilauea, as one of the world’s most active volcanoes, has been in constant eruption for over three decades. Even its name in the Hawaiian language means “spewing” or “much spreading”. Scientists estimate that Kilauea’s first eruptions began somewhere between 210,000 and 280,000 years ago, building up a geologic structure known as a shield volcano, or a broad, dome-shaped volcano formed by successive eruptions of fluid, basaltic lava.

Kilauea’s last explosive period went on for a staggering 300 years and finally ended in the early 19th century after blanketing the surrounding area with ash. More recently, in 1955, an eruption from Kilauea lasted 88 days, or almost three months, its lava flows blocking all access to lower Puna and covering over six miles of public roads. Necessitating evacuations of coastal communities from Kalapana to Kapoho, the eruption covered 3,900 acres of land in total, destroying 21 homes. This eruption made history as the first to ever occur in a populous area within a U.S. territory.

Featured Image via US Geological Survey

About Hyeonju Kwon

Hyeonju is a passionate environmentalist who loves to spend her time outdoors when she is not writing. She is also an avid yogi, hiker, reader, and bubble tea drinker. She finds that traveling is the best source of inspiration for virtually all things in life.

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