Residents in Puna's Leilani Estates subdivision on the big island of Hawaii fled with little more than the clothes on their backs Thursday night after an eruption in Kilauea's east rift zone created a fissure in the community, spewing lava into the air as high as utility poles, covering roads and nearing several homes.
The eruption took place hours after The Hal Turner Radio Show published Civil Defense Warnings saying people should leave.
Evacuation orders remain in place for the community, home to about 1,700 people, and it's not yet clear when residents will be able to return home.
Two emergency shelters have been opened for evacuees — one at Pahoa Community and the Keaau Community centers — and a number of families had hunkered down at the facilities for the night.
Meanwhile, fire officials warn they've detected extremely high levels of dangerous sulfur dioxide in Leilani Estates and are reiterating this message: Get out of the community — if you haven't already — and stay out until the threat has passed.
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said the eruption that started in late afternoon ended about 6:30 p.m., after creating a fissure that sent lava soaring as high as 125 feet into the air. About 10:30 p.m., geologists confirmed the fissure (whose length was not immediately clear) was no longer erupting — and no other fissures had been reported.
They stressed, however, that new lava outbreaks remain a possibility.
"The opening phases of fissure eruptions are dynamic and uncertain. It is not possible at this time to say when and where new vents may occur," the observatory said, in its latest update. "Areas downslope of an erupting fissure or vent are at risk of lava inundation. At this time, the general area of the Leilani subdivision appears at greatest risk."
Within hours of the eruption Thursday, Gov. David Ige had activated the Hawaii National Guard and issued an emergency disaster proclamation. FEMA is also mobilizing resources.
In an interview with Hawaii News Now, Ige urged evacuees to "stay calm" and continue to stay tuned to emergency alerts.
Those residents fled their homes Thursday evening with few belongings — just what they could collect in the minutes they had to leave, as officers went door-to-door to ensure everyone got out. One resident said he grabbed his father's ashes as he ran out the door.
"My family is safe, the rest of the stuff can be replaced," another resident said. "When I bought here 14 years, I knew that this day would eventually come. But the reality is sinking in now."
Some residents seemed in disbelief at what they were seeing in their own backyards. In social media posts, they documented lava sputtering up from cracks in the roadway and then angrily boiling up higher and higher getting higher and higher.
Resident Ikaika Marzo said he could see fountains of lava in the community topping 100 feet.
He was among the first people in Leilani Estates to spot the active lava. And as soon as he did, he started notifying anyone he could find.
"When we drove on that road, we heard a noise in the forest and it was like a little thump," he said. "Next thing, like three to five seconds after that, we smelled sulfur. After that, that's when there was tons of sulfur. Then we saw some lava popping out."
The lava outbreak was first reported about 4:30 p.m., some six hours after a 5.0-magnitude earthquake shook the Big Island Thursday morning. That quake came after hundreds of small tremors rattled the island since last week.
In the photo below, lava is seen shooting up out of a road as nearby residents flee. At times, the lava shot higher than the nearby telephone poles!