Senior Editor
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The Inertia

In early May, Kilauea began erupting. There’s a good chance you’ve seen at least a bit of footage, but considering the apocalyptic scenes in paradise, the relative scarcity of it is surprising. The volcano first erupted on Thursday, vomiting vast amounts of molten rock and sulphur dioxide high into the air above Big Island. Along the East Rift Zone, a few miles away from the summit, massive cracks split the earth. Roads broke apart, the pavement cracking under the immense pressure from the shifting earth beneath them. An earthquake that measured a magnitude of 6.9 shook the area a day later, and the residents—who are normally pretty used to a little volcanic activity—began to really, really worry.

A few years ago, I, along with three friends, sunk our claws into a chunk of property on Hawaii’s Big Island. One of my friends fronted the money for me, and I still haven’t paid him for it. We’re talking about selling anyway because life got in the way of our big plans to build the equivalent of a kid’s fort on an adult scale. Now it looks like the property value has significantly decreased because the molten bowels of the earth are climbing out through multiple fissures all around it.

“The Leilani Estates Subdivision on the East side of the Big Island (Puna) is literally being ripped apart,” wrote Mick Kalber, the man who shot the video you see above. “This morning’s fissure eruption was by far the largest we’ve seen so far… starting just above Luana St, she crossed Leilani Ave, and poured lava into a group of homes to the North. Generally, these fissure outbreaks have begun violently, and quit quickly, but this one appears to be an exception. The fountains were carrying lava over two hundred feet into the air in a spectacular display! In the 40 minutes we were there, we watched her destroy two homes, and there were any number of others in close proximity.”

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As of Monday morning, 35 structures have been destroyed. Twenty-six of those are homes, completely destroyed by the slow-moving yet unyielding rivers of lava creeping seaward. All 1,700 residents living in Leilani Estates, right next door to the property we had such big plans for, have been evacuated, and still, the eruption continues.

“Please, the residents of Leilani need your help,” Hawaii Civil Defense said. “This is not the time for sightseeing. You can help tremendously by staying out of the area.”

On Sunday evening, Leilani residents were allowed back into their homes to get their pets, medicine, documents, and anything else they deemed worthy before retreating again.

It’s not just the lava residents need to worry about. The incredibly high levels of sulfur dioxide in the air could kill a person. According to the Hawaii Department of Health, no form of mask that a member of the general public can lay their hands on will protect the lungs from the noxious gasses.  “The best way to protect yourself and your family from the extremely dangerous volcanic gases,” the Department said in a statement, “is to leave the immediate area of the volcano defined by the police and fire department.”

In the early stages of the eruption, many of the residents weren’t too worried. Many stayed home in spite of the evacuation warnings, but when lava began flowing through residential streets, their tunes began to change. Now, many of them are facing a scary future: homes, jobs, and entire lives are gone, taken in the span of a few short days. “Now it’s trying to figure out what the future brings,” Leilani resident Steve Gebbie told CNN. “My work. My job. Am I going to have to move to somewhere else on the island? I’d have to start over at age 56. That’s concerning.”