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PAHOA, Hawaii – A new fissure in Hawaii’s Puna District sent gases and lava exploding into the air, 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 yards 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.
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.”
The new opening was still showing signs of activity Sunday afternoon. The fissure measures about 1,000 feet (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.
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.
Geologists warn that Kilauea’s summit could have an explosive steam eruption that would hurl huge rocks and ash miles into the sky.
Hawaii tourism officials are hoping Kilauea’s eruption won’t deter travellers from visiting the state’s largest island, even as geologists warn the volcano could soon shoot large boulders out of its summit.
Travel industry executives note most of the Big Island is free of eruption threats from Kilauea, which began spurting lava into a residential neighbourhood last week.
George Szigeti, CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority says Kilauea is being monitored constantly and says the Big Island is “immense” and there are large parts that are unaffected by the volcano.
President Donald Trump on Friday declared a major disaster exists on the Big Island. The move will make federal financial assistance available to state and local governments as they repair roads, public parks, schools and water pipes damaged by the eruption.