Earthquake hits Kilauea summit, sending ash plumes up to 8,000 feet

HAWAII — A magnitude 5.5 earthquake shook the Kilauea summit, resulting in an ash plume that reached up to 8,000 feet, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense.

The earthquake happened at 3:51 p.m. local Sunday, according to the US Geological Survey. It did not cause a tsunami threat, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

But the Hawaii Civil Defense Agency said the fallout will affect the volcano and Pahala areas, and cautioned about the possibility of aftershocks.

There were 500 quakes in the summit area of Kilauea in a 24-hour period over the weekend — the highest rate ever measured at the summit area, according to Brian Shiro, supervisory geophysicist at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Following vigorous eruptions from the Kilauea volcano, nearly a dozen people were left stranded in an area cut off by lava, Hawaii authorities announced Sunday. Hawaii Civil Defense Service officials said they went through the neighborhood to warn residents this was their last chance to evacuate before their final escape route was cut off by lava.

Some chose to stay in the area, which now has no power, cell reception, landlines or county water, officials said.

Authorities are planning to airlift people out if the lava spreads farther and endangers the dozen or so holdouts. Some said they were staying because they had nowhere else to go, officials said.

Three people were evacuated from an isolated part of the Kapoho community Sunday, according to the Hawaii Fire Department.

“USGS was on a routine overflight and saw people on the road in an area cut off by the lava. They stopped to inquire of their situation, and then when asked, airlifted them to a safe place. They had become trapped after trying to move belongings, and had no cell service,” according to they agency statement.

USGS said it will not be commenting further on the matter nor providing additional information.

When asked at a press conference Sunday night how many people remain stranded by lava, Hawaii Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno did not provide much more detail, saying, “Got reports of seeing people here and there. Yesterday I gave an estimate of about a dozen, probably still at that — minus these three.”

Magno reiterated that there’s no power or water in these areas and that those stranded are “off the grid.”

Meanwhile, seven people were cited Saturday for loitering in a disaster zone, and they will have to appear in court, Hawaii officials said.

Limit exposure to gas and ash

Volcanic gas and ash emissions remain high at the Kilauea summit and in the fissure system, the Civil Defense Agency said on Sunday. It advised residents in communities downwind, including Pahala, Ocean View and Kona, to limit their exposure to gas and ash.

At least 87 homes have been destroyed by the Kilauea volcano eruption in the four weeks since lava began flowing, Magno said Friday.

The lava from the Kilauea volcano has covered an area of 5.5 square miles — four times as big as New York’s Central Park, according to USGS.

Four weeks have passed since the first eruption rocked Hawaii’s Big Island and lava continues oozing from volcanic fissures, burning homes to the ground and turning into rivers of molten rock. This eruption has lasted longer than the 1955 and 1924 eruptions, the USGS said.