New fissure opens in lower Puna; sulfur dioxide levels high

New fissure opens in lower Puna; sulfur dioxide levels high

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) – A 21st fissure opened in Leilani Estates on Thursday, rounding out a day that started with an explosive eruption at Halemaumau Crater and that was punctuated by high sulfur dioxide levels that forced several Big Island schools to cancel classes and prompted new health warnings.

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Hawaii County Civil Defense officials said the new fissure was downrift of Makamae Street.

Additionally, several other fissures have reactivated and “flows have been generated,” officials said.

New fissure opens in lower Puna; sulfur dioxide levels high

Meanwhile, residents say volcanic haze across lower Puna is so thick it resembles fog, making visibility very low in some areas. About 12:30 p.m. Thursday, sulfur dioxide levels in Mountain View were deemed “unhealthy,” though officials said haze levels were declining.

“The sulfur dioxide has been very bad throughout Puna,” said Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator. “Fortunately, no (volcanic) vents opened up today, but this event is far from over.”

Scientists blamed the at-times dangerous sulfur dioxide levels on emissions from fissures in lower Puna. Light winds meant the gases weren’t pushed offshore, but lingered in communities.

New fissure opens in lower Puna; sulfur dioxide levels high

Jim Kauahikaua, USGS geophysicist, said the amount of gas spewing from outbreaks in Leilani Estates and nearby Lanipuna Gardens is about the same as the amount that comes out of Halemaumau Crater. The difference? The crater isn’t in the middle of residential communities.

“The thing to remember is this is putting out as much sulfur dioxide as Halemaumau does normally,” he said.

The air quality warnings come as other parts of the Big Island are under threat of ashfall amid continued emissions at Kilauea’s summit crater.

State Sen. Josh Green, an ER doctor whose district includes Kona and Ka’u, said those with respiratory problems should limit their exposure to ash. Extended exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide, meanwhile, could increase the risk of bronchitis or upper respiratory infections.

It was two weeks ago that eruptions first started in lower Puna — and they haven’t let up since.

New fissure opens in lower Puna; sulfur dioxide levels high

Since Sunday, seven new fissures have opened up and a number of older fissures have reactivated, shooting lava into the air and sending noxious fumes into communities. One of those fissures — no. 17 — produced a lava flow that was slowly carving its way toward the ocean. Since it opened over the weekend, it’s traveled about two miles.

Geologists are also monitoring widening cracks in a number of roadways in Leilani Estates, ground zero for the ongoing eruptions.

Steve Brantley, of the USGS, said the large cracks, which have torn roads apart in some places or created gaps of 1 yard or wider, are an indication that magma is continuing to enter the rift zone.

“The rift zone is being forced apart,” he said. “I think clearly it points to the potential for additional eruptive activity” in lower Puna.

The developments underscore the scope of the disaster in the area, which has upended lives, destroyed homes and shows no signs of stopping. Authorities are continuing to monitor for new outbreaks and say 21 have opened up since eruptions began.

They’re also closely watching activity at Kilauea’s summit crater, some 20 miles away from lower Puna as the crow flies.

On Thursday, an eruption at Halemaumau Crater sent a plume of ash soaring 30,000 feet into the air and triggered an ashfall advisory, which was subsequently canceled as the plume dissipated.

Meanwhile, in lower Puna, less explosive but much more disruptive eruptions continue.

Residents said fissure no. 13 continued to spew lava in Leilani Estates on Thursday, setting off loud explosions that were rocking nearby communities.

New fissure opens in lower Puna; sulfur dioxide levels high

Mandatory evacuations remain in place for the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions, home to about 2,000 people. About 250 people are staying at three American Red Cross emergency shelters, while hundreds more residents are staying with friends and family.

Magno said Thursday that about 20 homes remain occupied in Leilani Estates — a fact that he expects will change as volcanic activity continues to cut off roads, gobble up utility lines and send toxic fumes into the air.

“Lava has a way of moving people,” he said.

Meanwhile, authorities continue to urge thousands living elsewhere in Kilauea’s east rift zone to be prepared to evacuate quickly.

A presidential disaster declaration has been issued for the ongoing Kilauea eruptions, which have changed the landscape of a Big Island community, destroying dozens of homes, covering roads and gobbling up utility lines.

So far:

Some 39 structures have been destroyed, including 27 homes.
Lava has covered at least 325 acres of land.
At least nine roads are now impassable.
As many as 50 utility poles have been damaged by the lava, and hundreds have been without power since the eruptions started.
Tina Neal, USGS scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, has said there’s no’s telling how long the eruptions will continue.

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