Hawaii's Kilauea volcano eruption destroys more homes

Hawaii volcano emergency

PAHOA, Hawaii -- The number of homes destroyed by lava shooting out of openings in the ground created by Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has climbed to at least 26, and five other structures have also been destroyed, authorities told CBS Honolulu affiliate KGMB-TV. Lava has been spewing more than 200 feet in the air, scientists say. Some of the more than 1,700 people who evacuated prepared for the possibility they may not return for quite some time.

"I have no idea how soon we can get back," said Todd Corrigan, who left his home in Leilani Estates with his wife Friday as lava burst through the ground three or four blocks from their home. They spent the night on the beach in their car and began looking for a vacation rental.

Hawaii County civil defense officials say ten fissures have opened since Thursday.

Handout photo of a new fissure spraying lava fountains as high as about 230 feet (70 m), according to United States Geological Survey, is shown from Luana Street in Leilani Estates subdivision on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone in Hawaii
A fissure sprays lava fountains as high as about 230 feet, according to United States Geological Survey, is seen from Luana Street in Leilani Estates subdivision on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone in Hawaii HANDOUT / REUTERS

Scientists said Kilauea was likely to release more lava through additional vents, but they were unable to predict exactly where. Leilani Estates, a subdivision in the mostly rural district of Puna, is at greatest risk. 

Residents were briefly able to return to gather essential items, and officials said residents would be able to do so each day until further notice as authorities monitor which areas are safe.

Hawaii County civil defense administrator Talmadge Magno said at a Sunday news conference that some residents did indeed go back to the area. He also stressed that anyone returning should wear a mask to reduce chances of breathing in any contaminants. Officials also warned about wearing the right masks, with a warning posted online.

"Unfortunately we are up to 26 residences taken out," Magno said earlier Sunday. "There's no sign of things slowing down."

Magno told CBS News correspondent Carter Evans it's not known how long the volcanic activity will continue.

"That's the sad part about it," Magno told Evans. "It could be happening for a long time, or on the other hand, like I said, mysteriously it could just end."

Amber Makuakane, 37, a teacher and single mother of two, said her three-bedroom house in Leilani Estates was destroyed by lava.

The dwelling was across from a fissure that opened Friday, when "there was some steam rising from all parts of the yard, but everything looked fine," Makuakane said.

On Saturday, she received alerts from her security system that motion sensors throughout the house had been triggered. She later confirmed that lava had covered her property.

"They don't really understand," she said about her children. "My son keeps asking me, 'Mommy when are we going to go home?'"

Makuakane grew up in the area and lived in her house for nine years. Her parents also live in Leilani Estates.

"The volcano and the lava -- it's always been a part of my life," she said. "It's devastating ... but I've come to terms with it."

Hundreds of small earthquakes continued to rumble through the area Saturday, one day after a magnitude-6.9 temblor hit -- the largest earthquake to hit Hawaii in more than 40 years. Magma moving through Kilauea set off the earthquakes, said geologists, who warned of aftershocks.

Authorities cautioned sulfuric gas pouring out of the vents also posed dangers, particularly to the elderly and people with respiratory problems. Hawaii County spokeswoman Kanani Aton said some residents may be allowed to return home briefly to pick up medicine or take care of pets if sulfur dioxide levels drop.

Tesha "Mirah" Montoya, 45, said the threat of toxic fumes wasn't enough to make her family evacuate, but the tipping point was the earthquakes.

"I felt like the whole side of our hill was going to explode," she said. "The earthquake was what made us start running and start throwing guinea pigs and bunnies in the car."

Earthquakes near Kilauea volcano are getting stronger, geophysicist says

Montoya, her husband and daughter don't know how long they will be away from the three-story octagonal house they built nearly 20 years ago in a patch of "raw jungle."

"My heart and soul's there," she said in a phone interview from a cabin on the north side of the Big Island, where the family had hunkered down. "I'm nothing without the land. It's part of my being."

Gary McMillan said his home is about 3,000 feet from one of the fissures in Leilani Estates. He monitored remote cameras set up in his home and said his home was still intact.

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He's living out of his van with his wife at the nearby community center and constantly thinks about things they left behind, but understands why authorities evacuated residents.

"I was a critical care nurse for 37 years, so I understand the health implications and the dangers involved," McMillan said.

Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983 and is one of the world's most active volcanoes. In 2014, lava burned a house and smothered a cemetery as it approached Pahoa, the town closest to Leilani Estates. But this flow stalled just before it reached Pahoa's main road.

Nearly 30 years ago, lava slowly covered an entire town, Kalapana, over the period of about a year.