1,700 people who evacuated prepare for the possibility they may not return for quite some time
PAHOA, Hawaii — The number of homes destroyed by Hawaii's Kilauea volcano climbed to nine Sunday as scientists reported lava spewing more than 200 feet into the air, and some of the more than 1,700 people who evacuated prepared for the possibility they may not return for quite some time.
Hawaii officials said the decimated homes were in the Leilani Estates subdivision, where molten rock, toxic gas and steam have been bursting through openings in the ground created by the Kilauea volcano. Glowing plumes of lava have shot hundreds of feet into the air at points, officials said, and black-and-orange ribbons of rock have curled into roadways.
And there's no telling when it might stop, or how far it might reach.
"There's more magma in the system to be erupted. As long as that supply is there, the eruption will continue," U.S. Geological Survey volcanologist Wendy Stovall said Sunday morning.
Or, as traditional Hawaiian belief would have it, it all depends on Pele, the volcano goddess. Folklore says she resides in Kilauea, and Native Hawaiians aren't the only residents who bring her up.
"You have to ask Pele," Steve Clapper said when asked whether he had any idea when he'd return to his Leilani Estates home.
Clapper had to pile his ailing 88-year-old mother into a car and leave shortly after hearing an ominous rumbling behind the house. He believes he saw its roof still standing in photos of the area but can't be sure. Still, the California native was sanguine as he assessed his situation.
"What can you do? You have no control over it," Clapper said as he started his day at a nearby evacuation shelter. "Pele's the boss, you know?"
Cherie McArthur wondered what would become of her macadamia nut farm in Lanipuna Gardens, another evacuated neighborhood near Leilani Estates. One of the year's first harvests had been planned for this weekend.
"If we lose our farm, we don't know where we're going to go. You lose your income and you lose your home at the same time," said McArthur, who's had the farm for about 20 years. "All you can do is pray and hope and try to get all the information you can."
About 240 people and 90 pets spent Saturday night at nearby shelters, the American Red Cross said.
Officials intended to let some residents return briefly Sunday to fetch pets, medicine and documents, though Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder cautioned that plans could shift with the rapidly changing situation. The number of lava-venting fissures in the neighborhood grew overnight from eight to as many as 10, Stovall said, though some have quieted down at various points. Regardless, USGS scientists expect fissures to keep spewing.
They could eventually consolidate into one powerful vent, as has happened in some previous Hawaii eruptions, Stovall said.
Kilauea (pronounced kill-ah-WAY'-ah), one of the world's most active volcanoes, has been erupting continuously since 1983. The USGS's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory issued a notice in mid-April that there were signs of pressure building in underground magma, and a new vent could form on the cone or along what's known as the East Rift Zone. Leilani Estates sits right along the zone .
The crater floor began to collapse Monday, triggering earthquakes and pushing lava into new underground chambers that carried it toward Leilani Estates and nearby communities. Hawaii's largest earthquake in more than 40 years, a magnitude-6.9 temblor, hit the area Friday.
It set Michael McGuire's car rocking in his driveway, knocking things off his shelves and shattering glass in his cabinets in an area near Leilani Estates.
He hoped to check on his home Sunday. But he realized it was too soon to be sure when, or if, it would be safe from the moving lava.
"I'm somewhat fatalistic: if it happens, it happens," he said. "And I'm enjoying life here, so you know, you put up with a lot of things here. This is one of them."