After four weeks of spewing giant rocks the size of refrigerators and displacing hundreds of people, Hawaii’s Volcano Kilauea continues to grow more dangerous. With more than 87 homes now destroyed by lava, authorities are making evacuations mandatory in the most affected areas.
On Friday, Hawaii County Civil Defense spokesman Talmadge Mango confirmed that lava flowing from more than 20 fissures has destroyed at least 87 homes. Citing the “vigorous lava eruptions” that are becoming more sporadic, the Civil Defense issued a mandatory evacuation for a portion of the Leilani Estates subdivision and Kapoho. The extended evacuation areas now affect more than 2,000 people and CNN reports that authorities will arrest area residents who do not comply.
Beyond the risk of lava swallowing up homes, the latest danger to emerge from Kilauea is the increased outpouring of volcanic smog, or “vog.” For weeks, Kilauea has been releasing sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere, but now that is mixing with moisture and dust, causing eye and respiratory damage. Kilauea is also launching what residents call “Pele’s Hair,” or thin strands of volcanic glass fibers that can hit people or be inhaled.
The latest update from the US Geological Survey (USGS) has mapped the volcano’s path of destruction and revealed that lava has now covered an area of 5.5 square miles, roughly four times as big as New York’s Central Park. The destruction has become so widespread, the lava is now visible from space.
Residents were given a deadline and told to evacuate by Friday afternoon. According to the agency, emergency responders will have “no plans” to rescue anyone from the evacuated areas, should people find themselves trapped by lava flows past the deadline.
It’s a grim ultimatum, but it might be the incentive needed for residents to evacuate an area becoming increasingly vulnerable with each new volcanic fissure. After four weeks of unprecedented eruptions, the extent of these lava flows continues to displace hundreds of people on the Big Island at random.