Hawaii volcano eruption spews lava into residential areas

An ash cloud rises above Kilauea Volcano after it erupted, on Hawaii's Big Island. Reuters Photo

A mandatory evacuation order remained in effect in part of Hawaii on Friday after the Kilauea volcano erupted, spitting red-hot lava out of ground fissures and releasing dangerous gases into residential areas.

The eruption began around 4:45 pm local time Thursday (0245 GMT Friday) and caused hours of "lava spatter and gas bursts" to erupt in the Leilani Estates subdivision of the US state's Big Island, prompting the mandatory evacuation of some 1,700 people.

"White, hot vapour and blue fume emanated from an area of cracking in the eastern part of the subdivision," the US Geological Survey said. The area has about 770 structures.

The fissures stopped erupting at around 6:30 pm local time, according to the US Geological Survey, which warned: "additional erupting fissures and new lava outbreaks may occur."

The Civil Defense Agency urged those under mandatory evacuation orders to steer clear, as fire authorities were detecting "extremely high levels of dangerous sulfur dioxide gas" in the zone.

The eruption came after hundreds of small earthquakes in recent days that followed the collapse of a crater floor on the Puu Oo volcanic cone.

A 5.0-magnitude earthquake on Thursday morning south of the cone triggered rockfalls and the potential additional collapse of the crater, USGS said and sent a short-lived but massive pink plume of ash wafting into the air.

The Pacific island state's governor David Ige signed an emergency proclamation releasing disaster funds to the Big Island in the eruption's wake, as local news footage showed streams of lava snaking through forested areas near Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Local community centres in the broader district, home to some 10,000 people, were open to residents impacted by the threat, Hawaii's emergency management agency said.

Using his drone, area resident Jeremiah Osuna captured video footage of the red-hot lava flow in the region, which he described as the opening of a "fire curtain" that left him feeling "shock and awe."

"It was like if you put a bunch of rocks into a dryer and turned it on -- a lot of earth and pressure and fire just moving around," he told AFP.

Governor Ige activated the archipelago state's National Guard troops and told residents to pay heed to official warnings.

In his emergency declaration, the governor noted the current flow was showing similar characteristics to a 1960 eruption in the Kapoho area that "caused significant damage to public and private property in the lower Puna region" of the county.

Geologist Janet Babb of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory told AFP that scientists had been following an "intrusion of magma" down the rift zone since Monday afternoon in anticipation of a possible eruption.

Though the cracks from which lava was emitting had gone dormant, she emphasized that "the overall concern and the overall event has not ended."

Yvonne Baur, a lava tour guide, was visiting a friend in a neighbourhood of houses scattered across a barren lava flow field when the 5.0 tremor struck -- and called the pinkish-grey plume that followed "exciting."

But Baur lives in a less hazardous zone of the region and -- despite her enthusiasm for eruptions -- told AFP she "would never build or buy a house" in such high-risk areas.

"I want to be close, but not too close."

US Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was mobilizing resources, as well as monitoring for forest fires, power outages and water supply issues.

Hawaii Island, or the Big Island, is the largest of the eight main islands that comprise the Pacific US state, an archipelago that includes hundreds of smaller volcanic islands. The affected area is part of the Big Island's East Rift Zone.

Big Island resident Janice Wei, who moved to Hawaii from California -- known for its high earthquake risk -- said the eruption was almost a "relief".

"We've been waiting for big movement from the crater, after so many small earthquakes," she told AFP.

"Hawaiians and local people have lived here forever," she said. "You know what's going on; we have warning systems."

"Everybody should be prepared."

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Hawaii volcano eruption spews lava into residential areas

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