Awe and fear: Lava in Hawaii sloshes, oozes, crackles, roars

2018-05-14 09:30
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Leilani Estates resident Sam Knox watches the lava

Toxic gases rise from cracks in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. Kilauea has destroyed more than 35 structures since it began releasing lava from vents about 40 kilometers east of the summit crater. (Photo: Jae C. Hong)

The lava hisses, crackles and sizzles.

It roars like an engine, the sheer force causing an audible whoosh as it sloshes and bubbles.

It shoots into the sky, bright orange and full of danger, or oozes along the pavement, a giant bubbling blob of black marshmallow-looking mess, crushing homes and making roads impassable.

For the past week, Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has spewed lava into the air, destroyed homes, forced residents into shelters and agitated an otherwise cheerful, small community where everyone is a neighbour.

Kilauea has long towered over this corner of the Big Island as a source of pride, awe and inspiration, but also fear.

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Now, the air smells like rotten eggs or a recently extinguished match. Near a fissure where lava comes up from the ground, the toxic gasses burn your nose, throat and lungs.

Although you can't really see them, it's the gasses that could hurt, or even kill you. Maybe that's why some residents want to stick it out and not evacuate, feeling the danger is exaggerated.


Toxic gases rise from cracks in the Leilani EstateToxic gases rise from cracks in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. Kilauea has destroyed more than 35 structures since it began releasing lava from vents about 40 kilometers east of the summit crater. (Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP)

As the lava flows cool, they crackle and smoulder, gray or black smoke rising. When it hardens, and the black lava breaks and falls to the ground, it sounds like glass breaking. Shards splinter underfoot as plumes of steam waft from giant cracks in the ground.

Lava burns across a road in the Leilani Estates suLava burns across a road in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. (Photo: Caleb Jones, AP)

The heat near the lava becomes unbearable the closer you get. Even the cooler flows that are only creeping along slowly generate enough heat to turn you back. You can feel the warmth from the ground in the soles of your shoes.

If magma — the lava underground — comes in contact with ground water, it makes a high-pitched noise that sounds like a jet engine.

During the day, residents are a common sight in the evacuation zone, trying to check on the status of their homes as officials escort them back to pick up their belongings or feed animals.

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Hannique Ruder, a 65-year-old resident living in tHannique Ruder, a 65-year-old resident living in the Leilani Estates subdivision, walks past the mound of hardened lava while surveying the neighborhood near Pahoa, Hawaii. (Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP)

Not so at night: The streets are eerily quiet, and it is total darkness, the few streetlights knocked out by the lava.

From the darkness comes the sound of the Big Island wildlife: high-pitched frogs shrieking into the blackness, songbirds chirping a familiar tune, unfazed by the danger that has upended the lives and fortunes of the people around them.

SEE: Tourists and residents warned to stay out of Hawaii park to avoid deadly volcano explosion