When a Volcano Suddenly Pops up in Your Front Yard

Updated on June 10, 2018
punacoast profile image

The author lives in a quiet rural community in lower Puna on the Big Island. He's an avid gardener, traveler and photographer.

Lava fountains at fissure No.8 on June 5, 2018. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO)
Lava fountains at fissure No.8 on June 5, 2018. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO) | Source

More than four weeks have passed since the first volcanic fissure erupted on the Big Island of Hawaii. The fissures (24 of them!) are popping up in the middle of a neighborhood located on the East Rift Zone of Kilauea volcano. Lava has been pouring out from these "mini-volcanoes", causing unprecedented destruction in lower Puna.

Lava from an erupting fissure covers the neighborhood of Leilani Estates. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO)
Lava from an erupting fissure covers the neighborhood of Leilani Estates. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO) | Source
A wall of lava comes down a residential street. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO)
A wall of lava comes down a residential street. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO) | Source

THE CRACKS

After a swarm of earthquakes hit the lower Puna area, many cracks suddenly appeared on the streets of the quiet Leilani Estates residential neighborhood. Imagine getting up one morning, enjoying a cup of coffee and looking out your kitchen window. "Honey is THAT a giant crack in our driveway?" More earthquakes followed, and the cracks became deeper and wider. The residents were curious at first, but that quickly changed to panic when heat and gases started billowing out. Then came the lava.

THE FISSURES

The cracks soon morphed into frightening volcanic fissures, exploding molten rock more than 200 feet into the air and generating a vigorous lava flow that consumed everything: houses, gardens, cars, mailboxes, utility poles, etc. The residents had very little time to evacuate. Within days, half of Leilani Estates neighborhood vanished without a trace, all buried deep under a mountain of smoldering black lava! Geologists named the fissures by chronological order and recorded a total of 24. At present, only fissure No.8 remains active. However, it's the biggest and most destructive one.

Lava channel from fissure No,8 travels toward the coastline. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO)
Lava channel from fissure No,8 travels toward the coastline. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO) | Source
Lava enters the ocean creating plumes of laze along Puna coastline. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO)
Lava enters the ocean creating plumes of laze along Puna coastline. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO) | Source

THE LAVA FLOWS

During the eruption, multiple lava flows march toward the Puna coastline, mowing down everything in their paths before hitting the ocean. As of early June, a massive lava river (from fissure No.8) is still pushing its way down the slope, destroying two picturesque coastal communities - Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland - and cutting off the last escape routes. The lava enters the ocean at Kapoho Bay, filling in the bay overnight, and creating a monster plume of "laze" (lava haze) that contains corrosive acidic gas as well as tiny particles of volcanic glass. Officials warn the laze is acutely hazardous, can cause permanent damage to the eyes, skins, and lungs.

Ash plume rises into the sky at Halemaumau crater. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO)
Ash plume rises into the sky at Halemaumau crater. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO) | Source

THE ASH EXPLOSIONS

At the same time when the fissures and lava flows are wreaking havoc in lower Puna, the summit of Kilauea volcano comes alive with a series of seismic activity! Scientists measured more than 500 earthquakes in a 24-hour period, mostly around Halemaumau crater. Some of the stronger earthquakes were accompanied by explosions in the crater, sending a 10,000-foot plume of ash and rocks into the sky. The trade wind carries the ash plumes toward the south end of the Big Island, causing extreme poor air quality for many communities in that area.

Pahoa village at night looking toward the eruption in Leilani Estates. (Photo taken by author)
Pahoa village at night looking toward the eruption in Leilani Estates. (Photo taken by author) | Source
Lava flow - 3 miles away - lights up Pahoa village night sky. (Photo taken by author)
Lava flow - 3 miles away - lights up Pahoa village night sky. (Photo taken by author) | Source

THE ANXIETY

Since the beginning of the volcanic catastrophe in lower Puna, thousands of people have evacuated. Many displaced families have nowhere to go and are facing uncertain future. Lava has consumed hundreds of homes (600 at the latest count) and farmlands. Several residential subdivisions have been wiped off the map, with nothing left to see! Some iconic landmarks and scenic attractions along the Puna coastline are lost forever, destroyed by the lava flows. Scientists and local officials still don't know when the eruption will end.

About this article

The author lives 5 miles downslope from Leilani Estates. He has evacuated due to the high level of sulfur dioxide gas and ashes that make living condition unsafe in his neighborhood. He is staying temporarily at a place near Pahoa Village. Like all other lower Puna residents, he's waiting anxiously to see what will happen next. And praying for the eruption to end soon.

Large laze plume where lava continues to enter the ocean at Kapoho Bay on June 7, 2018. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO)
Large laze plume where lava continues to enter the ocean at Kapoho Bay on June 7, 2018. (Photo courtesy of USGS-HVO) | Source

Questions & Answers

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      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        4 weeks ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Thank you Liz! Yes, I do hope to get to come home soon. Aloha!

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        4 weeks ago from UK

        This is a very informative and well-illustrated article. I hope you can soon return home.

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