Kilauea is one of five volcanoes that make up what is known as the Big Island of Hawaii. People on the island are used to lava oozing from Kilauea. Since 1983, lava has been flowing from a vent, or opening, on the side of the volcano. Each year, nearly 2 million people visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to watch the lava slowly stream toward the Pacific Ocean. For the most part, the lava has flowed through areas where people don’t live.
But that’s not the case with the current eruption. Earlier this year, scientists noticed unusual activity in an underground area miles from the vent.
“The volcano was swelling with magma,” says Wendy Stovall, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey. “The pressure of all the magma swelling broke open a new pathway for the magma to flow.”
On April 30, magma gushed through that new tunnel, triggering hundreds of small earthquakes. Scientists used the location of those quakes to track the magma’s path underground. They realized that Kilauea was about to erupt in a neighborhood called Leilani Estates, where Amber and her kids lived.
On May 3, a new fissure, or crack, suddenly appeared in a street two blocks from Amber’s house. Lava shot like a fountain into the air, forcing Amber and many others to flee. Over the next three weeks, 23 new fissures opened up in the area.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Amber remembers.
Since May, about 700 homes have been destroyed by lava. The fiery-hot flows have also permanently covered roads and wiped out beaches and parks. As Scholastic News went to press, no one had been killed, but more than a dozen people on a sightseeing boat were injured on July 16. A molten rock known as a lava bomb exploded when it hit the cold ocean water. A basketball-sized chunk of it then tore through the roof of the boat.