Kilauea volcano flexes its muscle, destroying homes and forcing evacuations

Stars shine above as a plume rises from the Halemaumau crater, illuminated by glow from the crater's lava lake.
(Mario Tama / Getty Images)

The U.S. Geological Survey has warned that the summit of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could experience explosions in coming weeks and send large quantities of ash into the air.

Evacuations or significant damage is not expected because the summit is far from populated areas — and 25 miles away from the Leilani Estates neighborhood, where lava flows have destroyed 36 structures since a new eruption began at the volcano this month.

The risk of explosions is the latest possibility in a chain of events that began April 30 with the collapse of a lava-filled crater 12 miles east of the summit.

Lava drained from the collapsed crater underground. The missing lava began reemerging on May 3 at the surface in Leilani Estates, oozing up through cracks in the ground and consuming homes, cars and roads.

Left, a Hawaii Volcano Observatory geologist recording a temperature of 218 degrees Fahrenheit at a crack along Nohea Street in Leilani Estates near the town of Pahoa, Hawaii. Right, A damaged road inside the "lava zone" in the Leilani Estates. (U.S. Geological Survey; GIANRIGO MARLETTA / AFP / Getty Images)

Additional outbreaks or a resumption of activity are anticipated as seismicity continues in the area.

— Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Clockwise from top left: The hardened 1990 lava flow from Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes. Steam rises from a fissure on a road in Leilani Estates subdivision on Hawaii's Big Island. Stacy Welch checks the heat rising from a fissure near her home, which remains standing, in Leilani Estates. Residents in the neighborhood inspect small fissures in a road as volcanic gases rise. (Marco Garcia / Associated Press; Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images; Mario Tama / Getty Images)

At least 12 fissures have developed since Kilauea began a fresh eruption Thursday in the Leilani Estates neighborhood, located about 25 miles east of the summit of Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes and Hawaii Island's youngest.

The last time Kilauea opened up fissures in a residential area was in 1960, just outside the town of Kapoho. Lava fountains in that eruption reached up to 330 feet high. When the crack began to seal up, the geyser that resulted was even taller.

Top, Leilani Estates residents Elizabeth Kerekgyarto, right, and Lucina Aqulina embrace before parting ways outside Kerekgyarto's home. Left, a plume of volcanic gas mixed with smoke from fires caused by lava rises amid clouds. Visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park take in the view of Kilauea's crater. The eruption area is to the east in what is known as the volcano's East Rift Zone. (Jamm Aquino / Honolulu Star-Advertiser; Mario Tama / Getty Images; Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

The state of Hawaii has six active volcanoes, four which are on Hawaii Island. The three others are:

  • Mauna Loa, which the USGS says is the largest volcano on Earth and last erupted in 1984. That eruption lasted for 22 days and caused flows of lava that got to within about 4½ miles of Hilo, the largest populated area on the island;
  • Hualalai, which last erupted in 1801, creating a lava flow that is now underneath Kona International Airport;
  • Mauna Kea, the highest volcano on the island. It last erupted 4,500 to 6,000 years ago.