The number of homes destroyed by Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has jumped to 31, with scientists saying lava is spewing more than 60 metres into the air.
Local officials said the decimated homes were in the Leilani Estates subdivision, where molten rock, toxic gas and steam have been bursting through openings in the ground created by the volcano.
Officials updated the number of lost homes after an aerial survey of the subdivision.
“That number could change,” Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder said. “This is heartbreaking.”
Amber Makuakane, 37, a teacher and single mother of two, said her three-bedroom house was destroyed by lava.
Multiple new vents, or openings in the Earth’s surface where lava emerges, have formed. (AP: US Geological Survey)
The home was across from a fissure that opened on Friday, when “there was some steam rising from all parts of the yard, but everything looked fine,” Ms Makuakane said.
On Saturday morning, she received alerts from her security system that motion sensors throughout the house had been triggered.
She later confirmed that lava had covered her property.
“They don’t really understand,” she said about her children. “My son keeps asking me, ‘Mommy when are we going to go home?'”
Ms Makuakane grew up in the area and lived in her house for nine years. Her parents also live in Leilani Estates.
“The volcano and the lava — it’s always been a part of my life,” she said. “It’s devastating … but I’ve come to terms with it.”
There was no indication when the lava might stop or how far it might spread.
“There’s more magma in the system to be erupted. As long as that supply is there, the eruption will continue,” US Geological Survey volcanologist Wendy Stovall said.
In the hands of Pele the volcano goddess
Traditional Hawaiian beliefs say what happens next depends on Pele, the volcano goddess who is said to reside in Kilauea.
“You have to ask Pele,” Steve Clapper said when asked whether he had any idea when he’d return to his Leilani Estates home.
Mr Clapper had to put his ailing 88-year-old mother into a car and left shortly after hearing an ominous rumbling behind the house.
“What can you do? You have no control over it,” Mr Clapper said as he started his day at a nearby evacuation shelter. “Pele’s the boss, you know.”
About 240 people and 90 pets spent Saturday night at shelters, the American Red Cross said. Officials let some residents return briefly on Sunday to fetch pets, medicine and documents.
US Geological Service (USGS) scientists said they expected the fissures to keep spewing.
The lava could eventually be channelled to one powerful vent while others go dormant, as has happened in some previous Hawaii eruptions.
Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, has been erupting continuously since 1983.
In mid-April the USGS’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said there were signs of pressure building in underground magma, saying a new vent could form on the cone or along what is known as the East Rift Zone, which includes the Leilani Estates area.
The crater floor began to collapse last Monday, triggering earthquakes and pushing lava into new underground chambers that carried it toward Leilani Estates and nearby communities.
A magnitude-6.9 earthquake — Hawaii’s largest in more than 40 years — hit the area on Friday.
Displaced residents hold a prayer before the start of a community meeting. (AP: Marco Garcia)