Lava burns a home on the Big Island of Hawaii on May 24.

Warren Fintz

Lava on the Loose

One of the world’s most active volcanoes is erupting in Hawaii. Scientists say there’s no telling when the destruction will end.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

What would you take if you had just one hour to pack up and flee your home? Amber Makuakane (mah-koo-ah-KAH-neh) was recently forced to make that decision. The elementary school teacher and her two young kids lived near the Kilauea (kee-lah-WAY-ah) volcano in Hawaii.

On May 3, lava from the volcano burst through a crack in the ground near her home. Suddenly, sirens began blaring and helicopters circled overhead. 

“A police officer came to my doorstep and said I needed to leave immediately,” says Amber. “It was chaos.”

Amber loaded up her car with a few bags of clothes, some food, important documents, and as many other personal items as she could fit. She then drove to a friend’s house a few miles away. Less than 24 hours later, the lava had swallowed her home and burned it to the ground.

Amber’s house was one of the first of hundreds to be destroyed by the eruption. Scientists say this is the most destructive volcanic event in Hawaii in more than 200 years—and there’s no end in sight.

What would you take if you had just one hour to pack up and flee your home? Amber Makuakane (mah-koo-ah-KAH-neh) was recently forced to make that decision. The elementary school teacher and her two young kids lived near the Kilauea (kee-lah-WAY-ah) volcano in Hawaii.

On May 3, lava from the volcano burst through a crack in the ground near her home. Suddenly, sirens blared and helicopters circled overhead.

“A police officer came to my doorstep and said I needed to leave immediately,” says Amber. “It was chaos.”

Amber loaded up her car with a few bags of clothes, some food, important documents, and other personal items. She then drove to a friend’s house a few miles away. Within 24 hours, the lava had swallowed her home and burned it to the ground.

Amber’s house was one of the first of hundreds to be destroyed by the eruption. Scientists say this is the most destructive volcanic event in Hawaii in more than 200 years. And there is no end in sight.

A New Path

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.

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. They come 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. That triggered 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. Amber and her kids lived there.

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. Amber and many others were forced 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. They have 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.

Watching and Waiting

Volcanoes in Hawaii do more than just cause destruction. In fact, without them, the state wouldn’t even exist. Millions of years ago, lava began to burst from an opening on the ocean floor. Over time, the lava cooled and hardened into land. The eruptions continued, creating undersea mountains that grew taller and wider. Eventually, those mountains rose above the waves and became the Hawaiian Islands. Today, lava from Kilauea is making the Big Island even bigger (see “Give and Take”).

In early August, lava was still pouring from several of the fissures. About 2,000 people have had to evacuate their homes. Most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been closed while the eruption continues.

Scientists don’t know exactly how long the recent lava flows will last. They say it could be months or even years. For now, they’re continuing to monitor Kilauea for new signs of danger and working to help keep people out of harm’s way.

“We don’t see it stopping anytime soon,” says Stovall.

Volcanoes in Hawaii do more than just cause destruction. In fact, without them, the state wouldn’t even exist. Millions of years ago, lava began to burst from an opening on the ocean floor. Over time, the lava cooled and hardened into land. The eruptions continued, creating undersea mountains that grew taller and wider. Eventually, those mountains rose above the waves and became the Hawaiian Islands. Today, lava from Kilauea is making the Big Island even bigger (see “Give and Take”).

In early August, lava was still pouring from several of the fissures. About 2,000 people have had to evacuate their homes. Most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been closed while the eruption continues.

Scientists don’t know exactly how long the recent lava flows will last. They say it could be months or even years. For now, they’re continuing to monitor Kilauea for new signs of danger. And they are working to keep people out of harm’s way.

“We don’t see it stopping anytime soon,” says Stovall.

DigitalGlobe via Getty Image

1. Which details from the article support the claim that Kilauea’s current eruption is the most destructive volcanic event in Hawaii in more than 200 years?

2. What text structure does Tricia Culligan mostly use in the section “A New Path”? How do you know?

3. What words and phrases does the author use to describe the eruption? How do these descriptions help you understand the events in Hawaii?

4. What is the main idea of the sidebar “Give and Take”? Which section of the article does it most closely relate to?

1. Which details from the article support the claim that Kilauea’s current eruption is the most destructive volcanic event in Hawaii in more than 200 years?

2. What text structure does Tricia Culligan mostly use in the section “A New Path”? How do you know?

3. What words and phrases does the author use to describe the eruption? How do these descriptions help you understand the events in Hawaii?

4. What is the main idea of the sidebar “Give and Take”? Which section of the article does it most closely relate to?

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