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Lava flow intensifies from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano

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Areas downslope of the erupting vent are at risk of lava inundation. At this time, the general area of the Leilani Estates subdivision appears at greatest risk. Hawai’i County Civil Defense is on scene and coordinating needed responses, including evacuation of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions.(USGS/ZUMA Wire/ZUMA24.com/TNS)

HILO, Hawaii — The flow of lava intensified Sunday from eruptions at Hawaii Island’s Kilauea volcano, and molten rock was pouring from fissures that opened overnight, farther from the original eruptions.

At least nine homes have been destroyed, Hawaii County officials said.

Toxic sulfur dioxide gas spewing near the fissures was at lethal concentrations, said U.S. Geological Survey volcano scientist Wendy Stovall. Lava fountains emerging from the cracks in the ground produced even more gas than previously observed.

Residents have been evacuated from two remote, rural neighborhoods on the eastern edge of Hawaii Island where the lava is emerging from the fissures. An estimated 1,800 people live in the affected area, and many have sought housing in shelters, with friends or on surrounding islands.

“Scientists on the ground are reporting that lava flows are traveling through the forest, power lines are coming down, and a few explosions have been heard — likely from propane tanks or methane explosions,” Stovall said.

As lava inundates the heavily forested area, organic matter burns and releases methane. “That methane gas can get trapped in pockets beneath lava flows or underground, and explode out violently, throwing rocks and debris in every direction,” Stovall said.

Eruptions of lava fountains continued throughout the night. Because lava by Sunday morning was flowing farther than it did in the first days of the eruption, “that means the magma supply is still present and shows signs of continuing,” Stovall said.

The flows are still moving quite slowly, however — scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey monitoring them can walk away from the hot lava easily.

By Sunday morning on Hawaii, the overall number of total cracks that have at one point spewed or sputtered lava had risen to 10. On Saturday night, a new crack erupted between fissures No. 2 and No. 7, spewing lava as high as 230 feet.

Images posted by the USGS showed red-hot lava rising higher than the tops of trees. Other photos showed cracks in the ground and lava pouring over the asphalt of rural roads.

Local government officials said that if conditions permit, residents in Leilani Estates, the neighborhood where the eruptions have been occurring, would be allowed to enter the neighborhood to complete the evacuation of pets, medicine and key documents, but only during daylight hours.

Authorities warned that the air quality remained troublesome the roads were still very unstable, and that residents could be required to leave the area if conditions became more hazardous. Another neighborhood, Lanipuna Gardens, remains under a mandatory evacuation order because of the high levels of toxic gases in the air

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