Residents Warned: Hawaii Volcano Could Erupt at Any Time
President Donald Trump approves disaster declaration for the Big Island as emergency officials urge vigilance
Hawaii residents are living an experience straight out of a disaster movie.
But the situation they face now is all too real.
The volcano, named Kīlauea, has destroyed at least 36 structures — including 26 homes — since May 3 on the Big Island, when it began releasing lava from vents about 25 miles east of the summit crater.
President Donald Trump on Friday approved a disaster declaration for Hawaii, as a volcanic eruption threatens its largest island, reported multiple outlets.
The White House announced Friday night that federal funding had been approved for local recovery efforts in the area affected by the Kīlauea eruption.
"Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments," the White House added in a statement.
Authorities widened their resident-alert radius Friday, cautioning people in lower Puna to remain vigilant in the event of a possible gas emission and a volcanic eruption of Kīlauea. Officials also shut down all beach parks in lower Puna.
Fifteen of these lava-spewing vents are now spread through the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens neighborhoods.
About 2,000 people have been evacuated from the neighborhoods, multiple outlets reported, as boiling lava continues to ooze from the ground.
"Because there may be little to no advance notice to evacuate, you should be prepared to evacuate at short notice," authorities said, as the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency reported. "Take this time to prepare."
Residents who choose to leave their homes can take shelter at the Pahoa Community Center and Kea'au Community Center, said the agency. Food will be provided, and both places are pet-friendly.
Geologists warned last Wednesday that Kīlauea could soon experience explosive eruptions from its summit and launch "ballistic" rocks and ash into the air.
The next explosion could hurl ash and boulders "the size of refrigerators" miles into the air, endangering lives in all directions from the volcano, scientists said Thursday.
The threat of an explosive eruption could ground planes at one of the Big Island's two major airports, and pose other risks.
"We know the volcano is capable of doing this," according to Charles Mandeville, volcano hazards coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey, citing explosions at Kīlauea in 1925, 1790, and four other times over the past few thousand years. "We know it is a distinct possibility," he told news outlets.
The threat of explosive activity will rise as lava drains from the summit of Kīlauea, with explosions possible in the coming weeks if the lava dips below the groundwater table, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.
If lava drops below groundwater level, it can heat up the water and create steam.
The steam would then build in pressure as rocks fall, forming a dam within the volcano's walls, and "cause steam-driven explosions" with "very little warning," according to the Hawaii Volcano Observatory.
Tourism officials, concerned about vacationers' worries, stressed that other parts of the Big Island and the state remained open. "We know what people are going through in Leilani Estates. And we don't want to seem callous and inconsiderate in our messaging and our promotion of the island," said Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, according to Fox News.
Tourism is the island's biggest industry, and residents' livelihoods are dependent upon visitors' coming to enjoy their state.
"We want to make sure that everybody is still working and people have jobs to go back to," Birch also said.
The volcano, which has been spitting lava for a week, has also endangered the Puna Geothermal Venture plant.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige said that, for safety reasons, crews at the plant near the lava outbreak accelerated the removal of flammable fuel stored there.
Deirdre Reilly is a senior editor with LifeZette.