Nearly 1,500 residents were ordered to leave their homes after Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano erupted, sending molten lava through forest land and bubbling up on paved streets.
Volcano officials were unable to predict how long the eruption would last, prompting Hawaii’s governor to activate the National Guard to help with evacuations and provide security to about 770 structures left empty when residents sought shelter.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Hawaii County officials said steam and lava poured out of a crack in Leilani Estates, which is near the town of Pahoa on the Big Island.
Footage shown on local television showed lava spurting into the sky from a crack in a road. Aerial drone footage showed a line of lava snaking through a forest.
Resident Jeremiah Osuna captured drone footage of the lava burning through the trees, a scene he described as a “curtain of fire”.
“It sounded like if you were to put a bunch of rocks into a dryer and turn it on as high as you could. You could just smell sulphur and burning trees and underbrush and stuff,” he told Honolulu television station KHON.
Asta Miklius, a geophysicist with the US Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory, told the Associated Press there was no way of knowing exactly how long the eruption would continue.
“One of the parameters is going to be whether the summit magma reservoir starts to drain in response to this event, and that has not happened yet.
“There is quite a bit of magma in the system. It won’t be just an hours-long eruption probably, but how long it will last will depend on whether the summit magma reservoir gets involved. And so we are watching that very, very closely.”
Mandatory evacuation of Leilani Estates & Lanipuna Gardens Subdivisions now in effect. https://t.co/qJtOVlYTyI— COH Civil Defense (@CivilDefenseHI) May 4, 2018
County, state and federal officials had been warning residents all week that they should be prepared to evacuate, as an eruption would give little warning.
Officials at the US Geological Survey on Thursday raised the volcano’s alert level to warning status, the highest possible, meaning a hazardous eruption is imminent, under way or suspected.
Nearby community centres have opened for shelter.
Ranson Yoneda, recreation director for a Pahoa community centre, was readying the gymnasium for evacuees after it was selected as a Red Cross evacuation centre.
He said the people who arrived first were hungry for information.
“They just want to know what’s going on because they were told it’s a mandatory evacuation,” he said by telephone.
I urge residents in Leilani Estates and the surrounding areas to follow instructions from the County of Hawaiâiâs Civil Defense Agency. Please be alert and prepare now to keep your family safe. @USGSVolcanoes #Kilauea— Governor David Ige (@GovHawaii) May 4, 2018
The eruption came after days of earthquakes rattled the area’s Puna district.
A nearby school was closed due to the ongoing seismic activity and several roadways cracked under the strain of the constant temblors. A magnitude 5.0 earthquake was recorded hours before the eruption began on Thursday.
The Puu Oo crater floor began to collapse on Monday, triggering a series of earthquakes and pushing the lava into new underground chambers.
The collapse caused magma to push more than 10 miles (16km) towards the populated south-east coastline of the island.
USGS geologist Janet Babb said the magma crossed under Highway 130, which leads to a popular volcano access point, on Tuesday night.
Hawaii County Civil Defence Agency closed the area to visitors on Tuesday and ordered private tour companies to stop taking people into the region.
Most of Kilauea’s activity has been non-explosive, but a 1924 eruption spewed ash and 10-ton rocks into the sky, leaving one man dead.
Puu Oo’s 1983 eruption resulted in lava fountains soaring more than 1,500ft (457m) high. In the decades since, the lava flow has buried dozens of square miles of land and destroyed many homes.