On Thursday, May 3, fissures started to appear in the district of Puna. The big cracks provided an easy escape route for magma, which came sputtering out of them in the form of lava. Intermittently, the number of eruptive fissures has gone up: By Tuesday, May 8, there were 14 overall.
Though no human fatalities have been reported yet, the creeping lava's devoured at least 35 buildings — including 26 homes. The lava is high in iron, but low in silica, which makes it viscous and slow-moving. Unfortunately, lava speed is not the only safety issue that the authorities must consider. Toxic sulfur dioxide gas is being released with the lava. This can lead to acid rain and create respiratory problems for those who get too close.
As of today, more than 7 billion cubic feet (198 million cubic meters) of lava has escaped the fissures and oozed across the Big Island. The authorities ordered 2,000 residents to evacuate, but some chose to linger behind. In response, the police have been going door-to-door to clear civilians out of Leilani Estates, a hard-hit area located 12 miles (19 kilometers) from the volcano. Governor David Ige has asked for federal relief as Kilauea continues to devastate roadways, neighborhoods and crops.
Is there an end in sight? Geologists warn that more lava may soon be on its way and Talmadge Magno — Hawaii County's Civil Defense Administrator — has informed the press that the fissure eruptions "show no sign of slowing down." The U.S. Geological Survey also issued an alert on May 9 warning residents that the continued dropping of the lava lake at Halemaumau at Kilauea's summit raises the "potential for explosive eruptions in the coming weeks."
Still, past incidents can tell us a little bit about what we can expect once this entire thing finally blows over. Fissure eruptions tend to leave dikes in the ground. These are intrusions of igneous rock that cut through existing layers in the crust and frequently assume a speedbump-like appearance. The eruptions also build ramparts of rock.
While the destructive power of volcanoes can't be denied, they're also creative things. Already, cooling rock from the 2018 Kilauea fissure eruptions have generated over 494 acres (200 hectares) of new land. Dangerous as volcanoes are, we benefit from them as well.