New eruptions add to growing concerns about safety in lower Puna

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) –

Two new eruptions were reported in lower Puna on Saturday, sending more lava spewing into Kilauea’s east rift zone as civil defense authorities continued to urge thousands of people who live in high-risk areas to be prepared to evacuate quickly.

The new volcanic activity came after a two-day reprieve from active lava in the area.

Authorities reported the 16th fissure on Saturday morning, saying it broke out about a mile east of the Puna Geothermal Venture plant. The newest outbreak — confirmed as the 17th fissure — was about 100 meters below no. 16.

Amid the new outbreaks, officials ordered vacation rentals to cease operations in the area immediately — and they urged residents to be prepared to flee if they’re told to do so.

Those warnings had Puna residents taking precautionary measures Saturday.

“I think everybody recognizes that the lava outbreak is purely unpredictable,” said resident David Ellis. “I think our greatest danger is being cut off when Highway 132 is closed, and that should be soon, from everything that I hear.”

Fissure no. 16 broke out in a forested area northeast of Lanipuna Gardens at 6:45 a.m., according to officials. The fissure was one mile northeast of fissure no. 15 and no significant lava flow has been reported at this time.

Videos of the eruption show lava and steam spewing from the vent and onto nearby vegetation. At one point, lava was soaring as far as 100 feet in the air.

Ellis says that he has his getaway kit packed, his car is pointed out of the driveway, and he’s ready to roll if he needs to.

“We assume the worst, and hope for the best,” Ellis said.

Authorities, meanwhile, are ramping up warnings for residents in lower Puna — urging them to remain vigilant.


“Residents of lower Puna between Kapoho and Kalapana are advised to be on the alert in the event of possible gas emissions and volcanic eruption,” Hawaii County Civil Defense said. “There may be little to no advance notice to evacuate, so take this time to prepare.”

And on Saturday evening, officials told vacation rental operators in lower Puna they would not be allowed to offer their units until further notice. “Visitors who have vacation rental reservations in the restricted area should find alternative accommodations,” Hawaii County Civil Defense said.

Residents of lower Puna are also being told they can leave voluntarily and stay in one of two shelters at Pahoa and Keaau community centers. Mandatory evacuations remain in place for the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions, home to about 2,000 people.

“We still have a highly active volcano here at Kilauea,” said Tina Neal, USGS scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. “The situation remains unstable. Additional outbreaks of lava are likely.”

She added that there are growing fears that “hotter, fresher” magma could be making its way downslope. Eruptions of fresher lava would increase the risk of fountains and more significant flows, she said.

It’s been more than a week since the first eruption started at Kilauea’s east rift zone, and scientists say there’s no telling when the volcanic activity will end.

In addition to lava, hazardous fumes continue to pour from fissures in Puna that stretch over nearly 3 miles.

And at the summit of Kilauea, scientists continue to warn residents and visitors about the threat of explosive eruptions that could fling boulders “the size of cows” over a half a mile from Halemaumau Crater.

That’s why officials closed most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Friday, and also issued new warnings to residents who live near the summit about how to handle ashfall. It’s unclear when the park, one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations, will reopen.

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