PAHOA, HAWAII – Lava flows from an erupting Hawaiian volcano have destroyed 35 buildings, officials said on Monday, as they told residents of the threatened area to be ready to “evacuate at a moment’s notice” if they went to retrieve possessions from their homes.
The Hawaii Civil Defense Agency said the 1,700 people evacuated from the Leilani Estates area near the erupting Kilauea volcano on the eastern corner of the Big Island would be allowed to make brief visits back during the daylight hours on Monday, but had to be alert to the risk of deadly gas emissions.
“Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice,” the agency said on its website. It said the Lanipuna Gardens area would be off-limits to all visitors due to deadly volcanic gases.
Kilauea has opened 10 volcanic vents since its latest eruption began on Thursday, officials said.
So far no deaths or major injuries have been reported.
The Leilani Estates area some 12 miles (19 km) from the volcano, has been evacuated due to the risk of sulfur dioxide gas, which can be life threatening at high levels.
Some area residents returned for pets, medications and to check property on Sunday. They included Jeremy Wilson, who found his home surrounded by fissures hundreds of feet long.
“My house is right in the middle,” said Wilson, a 36-year-old social worker who turned back when he saw steam coming from cracks in the road.
The semi-rural wooded area had become a magnet for newcomers to the Big Island of Hawaii, home to about 200,000 people, who were prepared to risk living near an active volcano for more affordable real estate.
Jessica Gauthier, 47, said she and other local real estate agents had seen vacation renters cancel their reservations, though the volcanic activity is far from tourist centers.
“There’s no way to know that if you’re sitting in your living room in Ohio and watching the national news,” she said.
Hawaii’s 4,028-sq.-mile (10,432-sq.-km) Big Island accounts for less than a fifth of the state’s tourism. State data show that in the first three months of 2018, 16 percent of the $4.81 billion visitors spent in Hawaii came from the Big Island, less than half of the levels seen in Oahu and Maui.
Gauthier predicted tourism would pick back up as a new kind of visitor began to appear.
“Within a month we’ll start getting lava tourists,” she said.