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Thursday October 18th, 2018 11:55AM

Lava from Hawaii volcano destroys 117 Big Island homes

By The Associated Press
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HONOLULU (AP) — Lava from Hawaii's erupting Kilauea volcano has destroyed more than 100 homes in a rural Big Island district.

As of Monday, lava burned down 117 homes, said Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder. On Friday, the count was at 87 homes. Officials had previously been updating the number of structures burned because it was difficult to tell from aerial surveys which were homes or other buildings. Snyder said from now on, the county will provide counts of homes destroyed.

Officials were waiting for a count of how many homes were destroyed in an area called Kapoho. Snyder said it was difficult to count homes in that area from the air because of steam produced from lava entering the ocean.

Thousands in the Puna district had to evacuate after lava fissures started opening in neighborhoods a month ago. Officials had issued mandatory orders for residents of Leilani Estates and those in Kapoho Beach and Vacationland to leave by Friday afternoon or risk being trapped and unreachable by emergency crews.

Residents in the nearby areas should also be prepared to evacuate with little notice, officials said.

On Sunday, a U.S. Geological Survey field crew was in a helicopter when they noticed people on the ground needed help. The crew landed and confirmed the three people had no cellphone reception. The flight crew went to a safe location and dropped off the USGS team, then went back and airlifted the people to safety, Janet Babb said, a USGS geologist.

Helicopter footage from USGS on Monday showed lava from one fissure entering the ocean at Kapoho Bay.

Scientists said a laze plume was blowing inland from the ocean entry but dissipating quickly. Laze is formed when hot lava hits the ocean, reacts with sea water and sends hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles in the air.

Officials warned the public to stay away from the plume because it can irritate skin and eyes and make it difficult to breathe.

Lava has covered a total of 8 square miles (20 square kilometers), scientists said Monday.

USGS' Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said Monday that parts of the channelized flow from a fissure were starting to break out and move north.

There have been various arrests of people forcing their way through blocked areas. Police on Monday said a 62-year-old man sped through a checkpoint near an intersection where lava was approaching. He faces charges that include refusing to evacuate and reckless driving. Police said a 55-year-old man was arrested last week after he circumvented a traffic checkpoint and crashed his vehicle into a hardened lava flow.

The monthlong eruption has claimed as much as a half of a forest reserve that's home to native birds and trees that have already been declining because of disease, state officials said.

Most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been closed since May 11 because of earthquakes and continuous explosions from the volcano's summit crater.

Continued earthquakes, including Sunday's magnitude 5.5 quake, damaged the overlook deck and other features at Jagger Museum in the national park, where most visitors go to see the summit lava lake, park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said.

"Unlike lava, which you can see coming and avoid, we cannot see or predict earthquakes, nor can we foresee a summit explosion, but both threats continue," park Superintendent Cindy Orlando said. It's not known when the heavily visited Kilauea section of the park will reopen.

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AP journalist Caleb Jones contributed to this report.

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Follow AP's complete coverage of the Hawaii volcano here: https://apnews.com/tag/Kilauea

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