Hawaii Shook by Earthquakes and Damaged by Volcanoes

earthquakes, volcanoes

Volcano Kilauea erupted in Hawaii on Thursday, May 5, 2018. The volcano sent fountains of lava, steam, volcanic ash, and high levels of dangerous sulfur dioxide gas into the air.

There were immediate reports of molten rock shooting as high as 100 feet into the air from the ground fractures. There were fractures in a subdivision on the island’s eastern Puna district of wooden homes and tropical plants. The subdivision is called Leilani Estates.

Saturday morning there were at lease seven fissure vents reported in Lielani Estates, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency. Officials believe more fissures are likely to break open along the rift zone.

Drone footage showed lava spouting and oozing along formed fissures, moving toward Lielani Estates, leaving trees smoldering. Two homes in the subdivision caught fire, according Hawaii News Now. There are 1,700 people who live in the subdivision.

After the volcano erupted, earthquakes regularly shook the island of Hawaii. Midday Friday, a 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck south of the volcano, at 11:30 a.m. local time. An hour later, a 6.9 M temblor shook Hawaii, according to the U.S. Geological Society.

In the last week, Hawaii has been shaken by over 1,000 earthquakes. Many of the quakes were minor and did not cause damage, however, the 6.9-magnitude temblor that struck Friday, left 14,000 residents without power.

Earthquakes and volcanic activity generally occur together in Hawaii, according to the U.S. Geological Society. Many of the earthquakes are caused by the magma that is moving inside the volcanoes, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The larger quake was felt in Oahu and hit in almost the exact same spot as the deadly 7.4 M earthquake in 1975.

Residents posted videos to social media showing homes shaking, items crashing to the floor at grocery stores, and waves forming in swimming pools when the 6.9 M quake shook Hawaii.

Cori Chong was in her bedroom with her dog when the quake hit. Chong lives an hour north of the temblor’s epicenter, but the shaking in her home was so violent it moved furniture and shattered glass. “I think the whole island felt it,” she said.

The earthquakes caused officials to close the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Earthquakes damaged some of the craters, trails, and roads. During the first earthquake, a cliff collapsed into the ocean and fissures appeared in the ground near the Jaggar Museum.

Park officials canceled hikes on Friday and evacuated 2,600 visitors and non-emergency employees. Park superintendent Cindy Orlando said that safety was the main priority at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. They plan to observe the situation closely and will re-open when it is safe.

The threat of a tsunami was low after the earthquakes, according to officials but residents were not in the clear yet. According to agency administrator Talmadge Magno, things are still elevated.

After Saturday’s eruption, Hawaii’s acting Mayor Wil Okabe issued a state of emergency. Governor David Ige also issued a proclamation of emergency and activated the help of Hawaii’s National Guard to assist with the evacuations.

Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii posted on Twitter for people to “Please be safe.”

Jordan Sonner, a Big Island Realtor, was taking pictures for a listing on another part of the island, on Thursday, when she received a call telling her that there was lava on the way to Leilani Estates. She rushed backed to her home outside Leilani Estates. She said her immediate threat was not the lava but the sulfur dioxide gas.

It took Sonner 90 minutes to get home. Once there, she grabbed her important documents, four dogs and a chinchilla, and got out of the area to higher ground, 20 miles northwest of Leilani Estates. She expects it will be a long while before she is able to return to her home.

Sonner said it is too early to predict what may happen. The volcano is a shield volcano thus, it erupts slowly. “This is far from over.” They have to wait to see what direction the lava is going to flow and how many other fissures will open.

When asked if she was afraid she would lose her home, she responded: “The way I kind of look at it is, the land doesn’t really belong to us. It belongs to Pele [the Hawaiian volcano goddess]. We get to live on it while we can and if she wants it back, she’ll take it. I have good insurance.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard told CNN that, as of Friday, a few hundred people evacuated their homes in Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens nearby. Many took refuge at local Red Cross shelters, and churches. Others chose to stay with friends or family in other areas of the island.

According to Gabbard, the threat from the sulfur dioxide gas can be more dangerous than the flowing lava. If conditions worsen, even first responders will not be able to venture into the affected neighborhoods to help any residents than may be trapped.

Sulfur dioxide gas can be so thick and toxic in some areas that it can be deadly, especially to those with respiratory illnesses. The wind can push the gas in various directions. That is a serious concern because of the high levels. People do not have the type of protective gas masks that would be needed if they were in the thicker areas, according to Gabbard.

The levels of sulfur dioxide are at a lethal concentration. There are people who are unwilling to evacuate the area and they are at high risk to being exposed to the deadly gas, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Kilauea is the youngest and most active volcano on the island. The volcano erupted hours after a 5.0 M earthquake upset the island Thursday morning. Kilauea is made of basalt. It is a fluid lava that makes for effusive, rather than explosive eruptions.

“Rather than building up into a steep, towering peak like Krakatau in Indonesia or Mount St. Helens in Washington state, the fluid rock at Kilauea creates a broad, shallow dome known as a shield volcano.

Shield volcanoes are voluminous. They are the largest volcanoes on Earth, however, they have long, low-angle slopes and are not very dramatic, according to Tari Mattox. She is a geologist who worked at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory for six years. She said that people are surprised when they visit Hawaii. They ask where the volcano is and she tells them it is beneath their feet.

Rocks that are moving upward through the mantle under Hawaii, begin to melt 50 miles beneath the surface. The magma is less dense than the rocks that surround it. Therefore, it continues to rise until it puddles in a reservoir, three miles wide and one to four miles deep. Pressure builds up in the magma chamber, causing it to fill weak spots in the rock, and squeezes through the earth until it finds a vent to the surface.

According to geologists, the current seismic activity around Puna is similar to the events that proceeded the 1955 eruption, which lasted three months and covered 4,000 acres of land with lava, according to Hawaii News Now.

Lava moves very slowly, but it is so hot that it can ignite anything without touching it, according to volcanologist Wendy Stovall.

Saturday night, KGBM, an affiliate of CNN, reported that five homes have endured fire damage from the lava, thus far.

The Department of Water Supply has issued an emergency water status in the Kapoho area. Lava has seeped into the water lines and now there is a shortage.

The lava has also set fire to trees and other vegetation, which burns and releases methane gas, according to Stovall. Methane gets trapped underground and will violently explode, sending debris and rocks in all directions.

In 2014, lava threatened the Puna distrct again, specifically the town of Pahoa and the surrounding area. During this event, lava flowed at 20 yards per hour. There were 60 structures at risk.

By Jeanette Smith

Sources:

The Washington Post: ‘The whole island felt it’: Hawaii rocked by historic earthquake as new lava flows threaten homes
CNN: Hawaii residents on Big Island under threat of lava, earthquakes and gas
The Independent: Hawaii volcano eruption: Earthquakes, lava flows and toxic gas could last for months, scientists warn

Image Courtesy of Gord McKenna’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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