Hawaii volcano erupts, spewing lava and forcing evacuations

This 2014 image shows lava advancing toward Pahoa

Kilauea is Hawaii's most active volcano and parts of it have been continuously erupting since January 3, 1983.

The U.S. Geological Survey said new ground cracks were reported Thursday afternoon.

The USGS says additional fissure vents in the area are likely.

A series of hundreds of small earthquakes that rocked Hawaii's Big Island for several days prior served as a warning to locals and officials that an eruption might be coming.

The Kilauea Volcano has been erupting almost continuously for more than three decades.

Less than an hour after the eruption began, wailing warning sirens joined the cacophony, Maija Stenback, a resident of Leilani Estates, told The Washington Post.

Stenback, her daughter and grandchildren packed as much as they could into their auto.

Where is the volcano and when did it erupt?

.

There have been no reported casualties from the eruption, thanks largely to the fact that the lava flow was very slow-moving and halted before causing major damage to populated areas. Authorities detected high levels of sulfur gas that could threaten the elderly and people with breathing problems.

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Questions answered by Tracy Gregg, an associate professor of geology at the University at Buffalo; Jessica Johnson, a volcanologist at the University of East Anglia, and the Associated Press. Stenback was staying with a friend. The County of Hawaii Civil Defense Agency has ordered mandatory evacuations for multiple subdivisions, and Gizmodo reported that around 1,700 people reside in the immediate evacuation area, although more than 10,000 people live in the volcano's vicinity. Altogether in recent days, more than 250 small temblors have been recorded, including a magnitude 4.0 tremor just offshore of Puu Oo early Tuesday.

Fire officials also say high levels of risky sulfur dioxide gas have been detected in the evacuation zone.

"We all have to understand how traumatic it is for the people being affected", he said. The American Red Cross of Hawaii has opened an emergency shelter at Pahoa Community Center. Exposure to the gas can cause irritation or burns, sore throats, runny noses, burning eyes and coughing. "Civil Defense has been saying they can't predict it, but there's a good possibility, so they made everybody very aware that this could happen. They're in the emergency operation center as we speak".

The Hawaii County Civil Defence coordinated an evacuation of the Leilani subdivision but thankfully the breaching lava only travelled a few yards. Leilani Estates appeared to be at greatest risk, but scientists said new vents and outbreaks could occur and it's not possible to say where. His wife Stella then took a call from an official who told them to get out immediately.

"Houses are sprinkled throughout the trees in this subdivision, and much like the homes at Kalapana, these homes are now in direct danger of being destroyed by lava flows".

How many people have been evacuated or injured?

. But geologists said the current seismic activities around Puna most closely resemble the events that precipitated a 1955 eruption, according to Hawaii News Now.

Sure enough, the lava began flowing late Thursday - but as it flowed over roads and toward residential areas, Governor David Ige told local news station KHON-TV that he had activated the National Guard to assist as residents began to evacuate the area.

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

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