Hawaii shaken by several earthquakes, biggest at 6.9 magnitude, as volcano eruption continues

Big Island’s Kilauea volcano erupted on Thursday, sending lava-spewing vents across the land; on Friday multiple quakes were felt

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 7:09am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 8:10am

The eruption of a volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island has been followed by multiple increasingly strong earthquakes, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said on Friday. 

Hawaii County Civil Defence said Friday’s first, 5.4-magnitude earthquake was centred near the south flank of Kilauea volcano, at a depth of 4.2 miles (6.9km), at around 11:30am.

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After a series of other tremors, a 6.9-magnitude quake struck 9.9 miles (16km) southwest of the Leilani Estates at about 12:33pm.

It struck in almost exactly the same place as the 7.1-magnitude quake that hit the island in 1975, according to the USGS Seismic Twitter feed.

After a week of earthquakes and warnings, the eruption that began Thursday threw lava into the sky from a crack in a road and sent another line of molten rock snaking through a forest. The activity continued Friday, with reports of lava spurting from volcanic vents on two streets.

Civil defence officials said on Friday in a statement that about 1,500 residents of the Leilani Subdivision were ordered to evacuate from about 770 buildings.

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Residents from the nearby, smaller Lanipuna Gardens Subdivision with 130 lots were also ordered out.

“There are lava tubes on our property,” said Dale Miller, 58, from the Leilani Estates, referring to the natural tunnels underground that drain lava during an eruption. “The whole thing is Swiss cheese.”

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“It felt like there was something under the house – like a big snake was moving under the house,” said Lee Begaye, 61, Miller's partner and housemate, saying this was the first time in eight years of living by the volcano that he’d had to evacuate.

In addition to the danger from lava, civil defence officials are warning the public about high levels of sulphur dioxide, which can cause irritation or burns, sore throats, runny noses, burning eyes and coughing.

Keala Noel, 64, also from Leilani Estates, said she didn’t feel the lava was directly threatening her family, but went to a shelter at 3am on Friday because of the sulphur.

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“We stayed because we didn’t feel any imminent danger,” she said. “But I could hardly breathe yesterday.”

Earlier on Friday, some residents living near where lava is surging out of the ground expressed frustration that they could not return home. 

Brad Stanfill said the lava is more than three miles (five kilometres) from his house but he’s still not being allowed in.

He wants go home to feed his pets and check on his property, and is concerned about reports of looting.

One woman angrily told police guarding Leilani Estates she was going into the area and they couldn’t arrest her. She stormed past the police unopposed.

So far at least two homes have been burned by lava, although authorities are still confirming the extent of the damage.