Noisy Hawaiian volcano lava fissure prompts more evacuations

A new fissure in Hawaii's Puna District sent gases and lava exploding into the air on Sunday, spurring officials to call for more evacuations as residents waited for a possible major eruption at Kilauea volcano's summit.

U.S. Geological Survey has reported nearly 20 active fissures

Lava erupts from a fissure east of the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii on Sunday. The U.S. Geological Survey has reported nearly 20 active fissures. (Terray Sylvester/Reuters)

A new fissure in Hawaii's Puna District sent gases and lava exploding into the air on Sunday, spurring officials to call for more evacuations as residents waited for a possible major eruption at Kilauea volcano's summit.

Hawaii County Civil Defence issued an emergency cellphone alert after the fissure was discovered early Sunday morning. The agency said one "unidentified structure" was destroyed by the new vent, bringing the total number of homes and other buildings lost to the lava to nearly 40.

Residents in the immediate area were told to evacuate, and two nearby community centres were serving as shelters for people and pets.

Lava spread across hundreds of metres of private land and loud explosions rocked the neighbourhood not far from Leilani Estates subdivision, where more than a dozen other active vents have opened in the past week.

Kilauea volcano continues to push magma across Leilani Estates region 1:04

Fissure measures 300 metres

Nearby resident Richard Schott, 34, sat near a police checkpoint and watched as the eruption churned just over a ridgeline and behind some trees.

"I've actually seen rocks fly over the tree line and I can feel it in my body," Schott said. "It's like a nuclear reaction or something."

A police officer blocks a road near a lava fissure early Sunday near Pahoa, Hawaii. Residents on that road were told to leave the area. (Caleb Jones/Associated Press)

The new opening was still showing signs of activity Sunday afternoon. The fissure measures about 300 metres long, officials said.

The U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said new fissures, ground deformation and abundant volcanic gases indicate eruptions on the eastern flank of Kilauea are likely to continue.

"The appearance of the fissures in the past couple of days does not change the overall picture or concern," USGS scientist Steve Brantley said.

'Just part of living on the island'

Christian and Maritza Ricks, who moved to the area from California in April, stopped on the side of the road to watch and listen to the latest eruption.

"I guess it's just part of living on the island," Ricks said.

He said he wasn't really afraid of the destruction happening around him. "In a way it's kind of exciting to see what's going on and be this close to it."

Gases rise from a lava fissure after it erupted early Sunday near Pahoa, Hawaii. The new fissure emitting steam and lava spatter spurred Hawaii officials to call for more evacuations on Sunday as residents braced for an expected eruption from the Kilauea volcano. (Caleb Jones/Associated Press)

Most of the lava outbreaks have occurred in and around the Leilani Estates neighbourhood, where molten rock has burst through the ground, destroying more than two dozen homes and resulting in evacuation orders for nearly 2,000 people.

The U.S. Geological Survey has reported nearly 20 active fissures. One that opened Saturday night was spattering, but no flow had formed.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported the fissures opened just east of the Puna Geothermal Venture energy conversion plant, where steam and hot liquid are brought up through underground wells and the steam feeds a turbine generator to produce electricity. Plant workers last week as a precaution removed 189,265 litres of a flammable gas stored at the site.

Geologists warn that Kilauea's summit could have an explosive steam eruption that would hurl huge rocks and ash miles into the sky.