Huge fissure opens on Hawaiian volcano; some defy evacuation order

By Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) - A massive new fissure opened on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, hurling bursts of rock and magma with an ear-piercing screech on Sunday as it threatened nearby homes within a zone where authorities had just ordered an evacuation.

The fissure, a vivid gouge of magma with steam and smoke pouring out both ends, was the 17th to open on the volcano since it began erupting on May 3. Dozens of homes have been destroyed and hundreds of people forced to evacuate in the past 10 days.

As seen from a helicopter, the crack appeared to be about 1,000 feet (300 meters) long and among the largest of those fracturing the side of Kilauea, a 4,000-foot-high (1,200-meter-high) volcano with a lake of lava at its summit.

"It is a near-constant roar akin to a full-throttle 747 interspersed with deafening, earth-shattering explosions that hurtle 100-pound (45-kg) lava bombs 100 feet (30 meters) into the air," said Mark Clawson, 64, who lives uphill from the latest fissure and so far is defying an evacuation order.

Tina Neal, the scientist in charge of the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, described "spatter that is flying tens of meters into the air." The lava flow was "sluggish," she said.

"The situation down there remains dynamic and as we've been saying for days now the outbreaks can continue to occur both uprift and downrift of the existing fissure system, or the existing fissures could be reactivated," Neal said in a video message from the summit of the volcano.

Civil Defense officials on Sunday ordered people living on Halekamahina Road to evacuate and be on the alert for gas emissions and lava spatter. Nearby vacation rentals were directed to cease operations to conserve water and enable emergency operations to concentrate on year-round residents.

A pair of structures sat about 100 yards (100 meters) beneath the new fissure on the hillside.

One structure was destroyed, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported, citing a spokeswoman for Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, making it the 37th structure lost since May 3.

"We are keeping track of lava bombs. One went through the lanai (porch) roof of a neighbor's house," Clawson said.

Neighbors sometimes douse the projectiles with water, Clawson said, adding that about eight to 10 people in the neighborhood have stayed in their homes.

Meanwhile, other fissures continued to billow smoke over homes in Pahoa, on the western point of the Big Island of Hawaii, the largest of the Hawaiian islands.

GRAPHIC-Scorched earth: https://tmsnrt.rs/2IldVyS

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Pahoa and Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Paul Simao and Daniel Wallis)