Pahoa, Hawaii: Lava spewing in fountains up to 90 meters high from an erupting Hawaiian volcano has destroyed 35 homes and other buildings, officials said on Monday, warning residents allowed brief visits to their properties to be prepared to flee at a moment's notice.
Many of the 1700 people under orders to evacuate from the Leilani Estates suburb on the eastern corner of the Big Island were permitted to return home during daylight hours on Sunday and Monday, during a lull in seismic activity from Kilauea.
A lava flow moves across Makamae Street in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa on the island of Hawaii.
"Be prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice," the Hawaii County Civil Defence Agency said in an alert on its website. Residents of a second area, Lanipuna Gardens, were barred from returning home on Monday due to deadly volcanic gases.
Leilani Estates, some 19 km from the volcano, was evacuated due to the risk of sulfur dioxide gas, which can be life threatening at high levels.
"Please, the residents of Leilani need our help. This is not the time for sightseeing. You can help tremendously by staying out of the area," the agency said.
Kilauea, which began exploding on Thursday with foundations and rivers of lava flowing into residential streets, has opened 10 volcanic vents in the ensuing days, officials said.
The lava lake at the summit near Pahoa, Hawaii.
Some area residents returned for pets, medications and to check property on Sunday and Monday. Jeremy Wilson found his home surrounded by fissures hundreds of feet long.
"My house is right in the middle," said Wilson, a 36-year-old social worker who turned back when he saw steam coming from cracks in the road.
The semi-rural wooded area had become a magnet for newcomers to the Big Island of Hawaii, home to about 200,000 people, who were prepared to risk living near an active volcano for more affordable real estate.
Jessica Gauthier, 47, said she and other local real estate agents had seen holiday renters cancel their reservations, though the volcanic activity is far from tourist centers.
"There's no way to know that if you're sitting in your living room in Ohio and watching the national news," she said.
Hawaii's 10,432-square-km Big Island accounts for less than a fifth of the state's tourism. State data show that in the first three months of 2018, 16 per cent of the $US4.81 billion visitors spent in Hawaii came from the Big Island, less than half of the levels seen in Oahu and Maui.
Gauthier predicted tourism would pick back up as a new kind of visitor began to appear.
"Within a month we'll start getting lava tourists," she said.
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