Warning sirens began to blare as the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island erupted, producing a 5.0 magnitude earthquake and spewing lava 150 feet into the air. Deadly gases also leaked from the 492 ft fissure as lava began weaving its way down suburban streets and thick, pink smoke filled the air.
Hawaii County Civil Defense urged 1,500 residents of Leilani Estates, in Puna, to flee their homes as lava streams approached and dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide, which is harmful to humans when inhaled and can produce acid rain when combined with water, were detected in the air.
The American Red Cross has already set up two emergency shelters for those who are displaced, and Uber is providing limited free rides to and from those locations.
A state of emergency was also declared by Governor David Ige, and the National Guard has been called upon to assist.
Ikaika Marzo, a lower Puna resident, said he witnesses “fountains of lava” shooting 150 feet into the air as well as lava working its way down Mohala Street in Leilani Estates, according to a report by the Daily Mail.
Leilani Estates resident Jeremiah Osuna described a “curtain of fire,” which he said he witnessed while capturing drone footage of lava moving through nearby trees.
“It sounded like if you were to put a bunch of rocks into a dryer and turn it on as high as you could,” said Osuna. “You could just smell sulfur and burning trees and underbrush and stuff.”
The eruption came after the area experienced a series of small earthquakes over recent days. Local residents had been warned that an eruption may occur with little warning and that they needed to be prepared.
Public access to the Puna District was also shut down earlier in the week and visitors were encouraged to avoid the area in case of an eruption. Usually, the region sees anywhere from 500 to 2,000 visitors a day.
It isn’t entirely clear how long the eruption will last. According to experts, the eruption could continue for days, or even months or years.