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Volcanic gases prompt door-to-door evacuation in Hawaii

Officials warn that lava could flow downhill and burn areas that are not currently in danger, and toxic volcanic gas could kill people.

Police have been going door-to-door in Hawaii to warn residents near two new vents emitting dangerous gases in areas where lava has been pouring into streets for the past week.

Authorities ordered nearly 2,000 residents to leave two communities in the mostly rural district of Puna on Hawaii’s Big Island last Thursday amid the latest volcanic activity.

Some ignored the order and stayed to watch over their properties.

But on Tuesday, the emergence of the two new vents prompted Hawaii County to issue a mobile phone alert ordering stragglers in Lanipuna Gardens to get out immediately. Police followed up with personal visits.

“There were a number of people at their residences,” said Talmadge Magno, the administrator for Hawaii County Civil Defence. There was no sign of holdouts in Lanipuna afterwards, he added.

Edwin Montoya, 76, had planned to stay to care for animals and keep looters away from his family’s property in neighbouring Leilani Estates. But he was forced to evacuate after the new fissures emerged, including one just a mile away.

“I’m in my truck right now on my way up the road,” he said. “The police came down here and made me.”

Both communities are in a forested, remote part of the Big Island on the eastern flank of Kilauea volcano, which has been erupting continuously since 1983.

In recent years the volcano has mostly released lava in hard-to-reach areas inside a national park or along the coastline. But last week, vents popped open and released lava, gas and steam inside residential neighbourhoods.

There is no indication when the eruption might stop, or how far the lava might spread.

There were about 1,700 residents in Leilani Estates and a few hundred in Lanipuna Gardens before last week.

Andrew Nisbet evacuated last week and has no idea what has happened since.

“My home is right in the line of the major breakouts so maybe, maybe not.” he said Monday during a community meeting.

Authorities urged Scott Wiggers to evacuate, but he refused.

“I’m in the safest part in the subdivision. There’s no threat to my house whatsoever,” said Mr Wiggers, a tour guide.

Mr Wiggers said he was not leaving his home on the outskirts of the evacuation zone because he worried that if he did, he would not be able to get back in. But he is prepared in case the situation takes a turn.

“I am packed. My truck is loaded. I’m not a dumb-dumb. If I see a threat, I’m out of here,” he said.

Officials warn that lava could flow downhill and burn areas that are not currently in danger, and toxic volcanic gas could kill people, especially the elderly and those with breathing problems.

Hawaii Governor David Ige told evacuees he has called the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to tell officials that he believes the state will need help to deal with the volcano on Big Island.

There are 14 lava-and-gas producing fissures in Leilani Estates, after the two new ones formed on Tuesday. But the flow of lava is not constant.

A total of 36 structures, including 26 confirmed homes, have been destroyed. Aerial surveys cannot make out whether some of the structures are homes or other types of buildings.

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