Kilauea's continued eruptions — possibly a long windup to a major explosion at the summit — forced more evacuations Sunday as yet another fissure opened and spattered lava along the volcano's eastern flank .
The Hawaii County Civil Defense sent out the evacuation alert for residents west of Highway 132 on the Hale Kamahina Loop Road after the fissure appeared. They were asked to head to shelters, like the roughly 2,000 residents from the Leilani Estates neighborhood who began evacuating last week.
The latest fissure was several hundred yards long and spatter reached as high as tens of feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which reported lava creeping away from the vent.
Early reports indicated this was the 18th fissure to open up, but another fissure previously reported over the weekend was smaller and didn't emit lava — so scientiests downgraded it and kept the total at 17 fissures.
The biggest fear is that the summit will explode and blast huge boulders into the air. Officials are also wary of heavy ash and hazardous sulfur dioxide emissions from vents that continue to steam in Leilani Estates.
Describing the situation as "fluid," USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Scientist in Charge Tina Neal said: "We have yet to see any evidence of explosive interaction of groundwater and hot rocks. That's what we're concerned about and we continue to watch for and wait."
Explosions could be heard sporadically from Leilani Estates and nearby areas Sunday. Scientists said they come from the fissures.
Rochelle Berryman, who lives in the neighborhood and was allowed to drive through it, described the last 10 days as "nerve-racking" and said they reminded her of the tornado warnings she experienced while living in Oklahoma.
Hawaii National Guard units were blocking off more roads and only allowing local traffic to enter restricted areas. The Hawaii Civil Defense Agency said vacation rentals in Lower Puna were being asked to stop operating.
A donation center in Pahoa was still operating Sunday morning as evacuees picked up canned goods, water, rice and clothes. It was uncertain when they might be able to return to their homes. Hawaii National Guard Maj. Jeff Hickman said there are 300 people in shelters, while others have moved in with family or friends.
Since the earthquakes and eruptions began May 3, three dozen structures have been destroyed. Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been arriving to assist displaced residents. President Trump declared Hawaii a disaster area Friday.
Pahoa, which has taken in the bulk of the evacuees, was relatively quiet Sunday as intermittent rain and overcast skies disguised smoke from the volcano.