The number of homes destroyed by Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has jumped to 31 as scientists report lava spewing more than 61 metres into the air.
Some of the more than 1700 people who evacuated are prepared for the possibility they may not return for quite some time.
Hawaii officials say the decimated homes are in the Leilani Estates residential 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 on Sunday.
“This is heartbreaking.”
Amber Makuakane, 37, a teacher and single mother of two, said her three-bedroom house in Leilani Estates was destroyed by lava.
The dwelling was across from a fissure that opened Friday, when “there was some steam rising from all parts of the yard, but everything looked fine,” 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.
The lava has spread around 36,000 square metres surrounding the most active fissure, though the rate of movement is slow. 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.
The lava could eventually be channelled to one powerful vent while others go dormant, as has happened in some previous Hawaii eruptions, Stovall said.
Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, has been erupting continuously since 1983.
Traditional Hawaiian beliefs say it 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.
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.
The USGS’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory issued a notice in mid-April that there were signs of pressure building in underground magma, and a new vent could form on the cone or along what’s known as the East Rift Zone. Leilani Estates sits along the zone.