Big Island volcanic eruption

Last Updated on June 22, 2018

Current Situation

Latest Information

  • For the latest situation updates, information, and advisories about the volcanic eruptions taking place on Hawaii Island, including mandatory evacuations, please visit the Hawaii County Civil Defense’s webpage: http://www.hawaiicounty.gov/active-alerts.
  • This week and next week, free medical, dental, and eye care will be offered at Keaau High School (16-725 Keaau-Pahoa Road, Keaau HI 96749) as part of “Tropic Care 2018.” The care will be provided from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 22-23 and June 25-28. For more information, call the Hawaii District Health Office’s Public Health Nursing program at 808-974-6035.
  • FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is operating a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Keaau High School Gymnasium (16-725 Keaau-Pahoa Road, Keaau HI 96749). People who have suffered damage or loss will be able to register for assistance and get information from federal, state, and county agencies that will be located there. Go to this link to find out more information, register online, or see what documents you might need: https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4366.

Evacuations

  • Residents near the intersection of Highway 132 and Pohoiki should be prepared to voluntarily evacuate with little notice, due to the possibility of lava cresting the perched flow of a channel in the area. Everyone is advised to stay out of Lava Tree State Park. This is a dangerous and volatile situation.
  • Due to lava flow over roadways, there is no access to Kapoho, Vacationland, Highway 132, and Highway 137. Residents still remaining in these areas have been advised since Friday, June 1, to evacuate or risk the possibility of being isolatedPlease contact Hawaii County Civil Defense if you confirm that someone you know is remaining in the isolated area: 808-935-0031.
  • Government Beach Road, between Kahakai Boulevard and Cinder Road, is open to Waa Waa and Papaya Farms Road residents only with official credentials. There is no curfew. Residents in this area should heed warnings from Civil Defense officials and be prepared to evacuate with little notice.
  • A mandatory evacuation order exists for all civilians in Leilani Estates including and east of Pomaikai Street. Leilani Estates west of Pomaikai Street is open only to residents with official credentials; there is no curfew. For a map of the affected area and shelter locations, see “Impact In Hawaii” below.

Health Information

  • Volcanic emissions and volcanic ash are hazardous to health. Vulnerable people in or around the area of volcanic activity are advised to leave. If you stay in the area, limit outside activities and stay indoors if you have breathing issues. Vulnerable people may include the elderly, children, and especially those with compromised respiratory systems such as people with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and lung or heart disease.
  • Recommendations for protecting children in response to volcanic eruptions can be found at the American Academy of Pediatrics website: https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Children-and-Disasters/Pages/Volcanoes.aspx.
  • Monitor air quality data and forecasts resources provided at the Vog Information Dashboard at www.ivhhn.org/vog.
  • People affected by the volcanic activity, especially those who have been evacuated, are going through a difficult and anxious time. Maintaining mental and emotional health is particularly important. For help with feelings of stress and anxiety, call The Crisis Line of Hawaii 24/7 toll-free at 1-800-753-6879 (or 808-832-3100 on Oahu).

Visitors to Hawaii

This U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) map, dated June 20, shows the locations of fissures and expansion of ʻaʻā flow since May 3 (flows from the past two days in red; earlier flows in coral pink). The fissures are numbered in the order that they occurred. Dashed lines indicate active lava flow channels, with red lines indicating where lava is entering the ocean, creating a laze hazard (hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles, sent into the air). The fissure 8 flow has created a lava delta, filling Kapoho Bay and shallow reefs along the nearby coastline. A light-blue dashed line shows where the former coastline had been. The area outlined in yellow is the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV). The light-purple areas are lava flows erupted in 1840, 1955, 1960, and 2014-2015. [Click on map to enlarge.]

Situation on the ground. A series of volcanic eruptions and strong earthquakes due to activity on Kilauea volcano have struck Hawaii’s Big Island (Hawaii Island) starting around May 3, forcing evacuations of areas that are at risk of lava flows and toxic gas emissions such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and other components of so-called “vog” (i.e., “volcanic smog”) that come with them. A series of explosive eruptions at the Kilauea summit have created large plumes of ash and a tremendous amount of ashfall in areas downwind.

The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) is advising residents and visitors in the vicinity of the Lower East Rift Zone volcanic activity on the Big Island to take precautions and preventive measures to protect their health (see “What can I do?” below).

Threat from volcanic activity. This volcanic activity continues to affect eastern portions of the Big Island. As of June 18, a total of 533 homes have been destroyed by lava and nearly 10 square miles have been impacted. The U.S. Geological Survey warns that there likely be stream-induced explosive eruptions at the Halemaumau Crater in the coming weeks, and most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is closed until further notice due to the threat (the park’s Kahuku Unit is the only portion that remains open).

On the morning of May 29, highway 132 was shut down from Lava Tree State Park to Four Corners due to a fast moving lava flow approaching the highway. Everyone is advised to avoid the area. Due to lava flows, highway 137 is closed between Kamaili Road and Pohoiki Road. Kapoho and Kalapana Roads are open to residents only with identification.  All persons are asked to evacuate and stay out of the area.

Fissures near Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) are producing lava that has been flowing onto the property. Two wells have been covered by lava, but they had been plugged, so no danger is expected from release of hydrogen sulfide.

Hazardous “laze” is formed when hot lava hits the ocean, sending hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles into the air, and often carried by the wind. Breathing in laze can cause irritation to the eyes, lungs, and skin. People are asked to stay away from any ocean plume.

Hazardous laze when lava hits the ocean. Because lava has entered the ocean, there is a hazard from laze (formed when hot lava hits the ocean) sending hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles into the air, and often carried by the wind. Health hazards include lung, eye, and skin irritation, and people are asked to stay away from any ocean plume. Due to the laze hazard, everyone is advised to stay away from areas where lava hits the ocean, as the resulting plume travels with the wind and can change direction without warning. The U.S. Coast Guard is actively monitoring the area where lava is entering the ocean, and only permitted tour boats are allowed in the area.

Danger from volcanic gas. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory advises everyone to be on alert as volcanic gas is traveling downwind to Lower Puna, Volcano Village, and surrounding areas. In areas around Lanipuna Gardens and surrounding farm lots on Pohoiki Road, the Hawaii Fire Department is reporting air quality as “condition RED,” meaning there is immediate danger to health so you should take action to limit further exposure. Severe conditions may exist in the area that can cause choking and the inability to breathe; people with existing respiratory problems should not be in the area. All schools are currently open today.

Volcanic ash. Ash emissions from the Overlook crater within Halemaumau have also become a health concern. With  explosive eruptions continuing, the ash plume from the crater has risen as high as 30,000 feet above the ground, with the resulting ash cloud carried downwind to areas many miles from the volcano. Communities downwind will likely continue receiving ashfall and should take necessary precautions (see “What can I do?” below). If you are in the path of the ash plume, take shelter. Driving conditions may be dangerous, so if you are driving, pull off the road and wait until visibility improves enough that it is safe to drive.

Stay informed and ready to respond. Residents of Lower Puna on the Big Island are advised to stay informed with the most recent information and latest updates, which can be found at the Hawaii County Civil Defense alerts page. Comprehensive information about the risks of vog, including vog forecasts, can be found at the Hawaii Interagency Vog Information Dashboard.

Impact in Hawaii

Although most of Hawaii Island remains safe, caution should be taken in or around the area of volcanic activity. The volcanic activity and accompanying earthquakes, tsunami risk, and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions pose deadly risks. All people in the area must pay attention to official information in order to protect themselves and their family. Always obey official warnings, such as orders to evacuate and tsunami warnings.

Hawaii County map of mandatory evacuation zone in Leilani Estates (click to enlarge).

Evacuation orders, shelters, and water supplies. A mandatory evacuation order exists for Leilani Estates, particularly from Pomaikai Street and eastward (see map). Residents of this area can contact Hawaii County Civil Defense to schedule an escort to retrieve documents and vital belongings; these escorts only happen when conditions are safe. More information can be found at the Hawaii County website. Due lava flow over roadways, there is no access to Kapoho, Vacationland, Highway 132, and Highway 137. Residents still remaining in these areas have been advised to evacuate or risk the possibility of being isolated.

People in surrounding areas outside the evacuation zone who are vulnerable (e.g., the elderly, young people, and those with compromised respiratory systems such as people with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and lung or heart disease) are also advised to leave. All people in the area are reminded that the sulfur dioxide and other components of vog can be extremely hazardous.

Fissure 8 lava fountains. This fountain has reached heights up to 250 feet in past days. The fountain height varies, often sending a shower of lava fragments over the rim of the cone, building it slightly higher and broader. Lava from fissure 8 flows through a well-established channel to the ocean south of Kapoho [Public domain photo from U.S. Geological Survey]

Many areas surrounding the lava activity may be without electrical power. Be advised that conditions in affected areas may be dangerous, with downed power lines, cracks in the road, volcanic ash, and other hazards posing potentially deadly risks. Residents and visitors elsewhere in lower Puna south of the Lower East Rift Zone, should be prepared to leave the area with little to no notice due to gas or lava inundation. Take action necessary to prepare ahead of time.

Shelters for those who have evacuated are located at the Pahoa Community Center (15-3016 Kauhale Street, Pahoa HI 96778). As of June 4, the shelter at the Keaau Armory (16-512 Volcano Road, Keaau HI 96749, off Highway 11 behind Herbert Shipman Park) is currently full. Shelters at the Keaau Community Center and the Sure Foundation Church have been relocated to the Keaau Armory. Pets are allowed at all shelters.

Vacation rentals in the eruption area of Lower Puna are directed to cease operations to relieve the demand for water and to reduce the area population so emergency operations can focus on residents who live in the area. An emergency water restriction is in effect for customers between Kapoho and Pohoiki, who are asked to cease all irrigation in that area. Water spigots have been installed near the entrance of Lava Tree State Park and two water tankers are providing public drinking water access to residents and visitors in Vacationland and Kapoho Beach Lots.

Sulfur dioxide, vog, and volcanic emissions. The emissions include several chemicals, dust, and sulfur dioxide, which is toxic to the eyes, skin, nose, and lungs. Inhaled sulfur dioxide can react to the moisture of the nose, windpipe, and lungs to form a sulfurous acid (H2SO3), a potent acid and strong respiratory irritant. Children, the elderly, and people with preexisting respiratory conditions such as asthma are particularly vulnerable and should avoid the area. Keep medications on hand and readily available, and contact a healthcare provider if problems develop.

Information on local vog conditions can be found at the Hawaii Interagency Vog Information Dashboard of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network and at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. An eruption-related community information meeting will be held Tuesday, June 5, at 5:00 p.m. at the Pahoa High School cafeteria.

The Department of Health is warning consumers that no mask sold in stores provides protection from these gases. Masks known as N-95 or dusk masks are different from those used by emergency responders and do not provide adequate protection. Leaving the area of volcanic activity is the best way to protect yourself and your family. If you live in an community affected by volcanic ash, stay indoors and keep your windows closed.

Earthquakes and tsunami hazards. The volcanic activity has including earthquakes measuring as strong as 6.9 on the Richter scale. If an earthquake strikes, remember to drop, cover, and hold on. All residents and visitors in Hawaii are urged to know what to do before, during, and after an earthquake.

A local tsunami may follow an earthquake. Thus far, none of the earthquakes associated with the volcanic activity have posed a tsunami threat, although there were localized fluctuations in the sea level of up to 16 inches. Tsunami danger is imminent if you feel the ground shaking below your feet, if you see the ocean receding for a long distance, or if you hear a loud roaring sound coming from the ocean waves. Seek higher ground immediately or travel inland for a half-mile.

All residents and visitors in Hawaii are urged to know what to do before, during, and after a tsunami and to heed any tsunami warning sirens by immediately leaving tsunami evacuation zones.

What can I do?

Local residents and visitors are urged to stay informed about this ongoing situation. If they are not already receiving alerts, they can register to be part of Hawaii County’s emergency notification system by going to this link.

Be aware of vog and vog risk. People on Hawaii Island outside the area of volcanic activity are also advised to monitor levels of vog. When levels of vog are high, avoid outdoor activities that cause heavy breathing, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and avoid smoking and second-hand smoke. Stay indoors and close windows and doors. If an air conditioner is in use, set it to recirculate.

Rockfall generates a short-lived explosion at Halema‘uma‘u crater, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, May 9. [Public domain photo from U.S. Geological Survey]

Volcanic ash health risks. People living in areas affected by volcanic ash should take precautions. When explosive volcanic eruptions occur, volcanic ash can be a health hazard, even miles away from the eruption. Volcanic ash can cause problems breathing, especially for those with respiratory issues. With long-term exposure it can lead to eye damage and lung disease. Pele’s Hair is sharp, thin strands of volcanic glass fibers carried on the wind that can cause damage to the eyes and lungs. It is also abrasive; if it lands on your windshield you should not use your wipers to clear it. Accumulation of ash on buildings can cause roof collapses and other dangers. For more information on mitigating the risks of exposure to volcanic ash, visit the U.S. Geological Survey volcanic ash mitigation page.

Masks for protection from volcanic ash. Hawaii County has been distributing free N95 masks for protection from volcanic ash, up to three masks per person. N95 Masks will be distributed at upcoming community meetings scheduled this week. The Pahala community meeting will be held on Wednesday, May 30, at 5:30 p.m. The Oceanview meeting time is to be announced. Masks do not protect against gases and vapors; they will only provide protection against volcanic ash. 

N95 masks are not designed or intended for use by children unless prior pediatric approval has been obtained. N95 masks are generally intended for use by adults, and children and infants may be placed at risk for respiratory problems, breathing challenges, and even suffocation when using these masks. For more information, visit the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) information page on N95 masks.

Water catchment systems and volcanic emissions. Residents on the Big Island who use water catchment systems are advised that volcanic emissions may contaminate these water sources, making them unsuitable for drinking or preparing food. Catchment systems may collect acidic water that can leach harmful contaminants such as lead from roofing and plumbing materials, making the water unsafe for human and animal consumption. Volcanic ash may also interfere with common water treatment methods such as filtration and chlorination, raising health risks. For health and safety reasons, DOH does not recommend using catchment water for drinking or preparing food. County water spigots can be used instead as a safer water supply. A DOH document providing information on maintaining catchment systems in Hawaii can be found at the Department of Health website.

Maintaining mental and emotional health. Many people are feeling emotional distress from the volcanic activity. Evacuations and the insecurity of not knowing what will happen are a source of stress and anxiety for many people, particularly those in or near areas that have been forced to leave their homes. Talk to your family members and friends to maintain a strong support system. Children are particularly vulnerable, as they have trouble processing what is happening. Help your children by sharing age-appropriate information and being honest. Set a good example for children by taking care of yourself. Take breaks and unwind periodically and ask for help if you need it. For help with feelings of stress and anxiety, you can call The Crisis Line of Hawaii 24/7 at 808-832-3100 on Oahu and toll-free at 1-800-753-6879 for neighbor islands.

Learn how to protect yourself from disaster. All Hawaii residents are also advised to learn how to protect themselves from these disasters. Federal, state, and local agencies have information on what you can do before, during, and following a natural disaster:

Because of the unpredictability of disasters such as volcanic activity, as well as Hawaii’s isolation, island residents and visitors are vulnerable in case of a major natural disaster. For this reason, people who live in Hawaii are encouraged to have a 14-day emergency supply kit that includes water, food, medication, etc., that will last at least two weeks. For more information, please visit the Department of Health’s disaster prevention pages on emergency kits and on emergency planning.

Resources

Health information for children

Monitor air quality data and forecasts

Prepare for volcanic hazards

Prepare for earthquakes and tsunami threats

Information for Clinicians