Residents evacuated from homes threatened by a volcanic eruption spewing lava and gas on Hawaii’s Big Island were able to make a quick return visit on Sunday to rescue pets, medicines and essential documents.
Authorities said more lava fissures opened overnight in the Leilani Estates area, where lava leapt up to 230 feet (70 metres) into the air. Nine homes had been destroyed, the Hawaii County Civil Defence Agency said.
Some of the nearly 2,000 residents evacuated were allowed to go back during a 10-hour window on Sunday to pick up valuables, the agency said on Facebook, so long as conditions permitted. The Lanipuna Gardens neighbourhood remained off-limits due to dangerous volcanic gases.
“This is not the time for sightseeing,” the agency said on social media, urging others to stay away from the community about a dozen miles (19 km) from where the Kilauea volcano erupted on Thursday. No injuries or deaths have been reported.
The southeast corner of the island was rocked by a powerful magnitude 6.9 earthquake on the volcano’s south flank on Friday, the strongest tremor since 1975, and more earthquakes and eruptions were forecast, perhaps for months to come.
Although no significant lava flows have yet formed, additional outbreaks of lava, which can reach temperatures of about 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit (1,150 Celsius), were expected.
The rest of the island and state were conducting business as usual with no impact to flights to tourism centers, state officials said.
“The area where lava is coming to the surface is very far from resort areas,” said George Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Petra Wiesenbauer, owner of Hale Moana Hawaii Bed and Breakfast, evacuated on Friday evening with her two teenage children and pets.
“Now we are just trying to make plans for the future,” she said. “There is no telling when or if we’ll ever be able to go back in.”
US Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democrat, called on federal officials to quickly respond to needs such as short- and long-term housing and infrastructure repairs.
Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes and one of five on the island, has been in constant eruption for 35 years.