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Hawaii residents describe fear and shock after earthquakes, lava and gas

Hawaii residents faced the threats of more earthquakes, lava and dangerous gas Saturday after the Kilauea Volcano erupted, spewing sulfuric acid and molten rocks into neighborhoods.

Hundreds of people left their homes in the Big Island neighborhoods after the Kilauea volcano erupted Thursday.

Adding to the fear and chaos, a magnitude-6.9 struck the area Friday, jolting homes already threatened by a volcanic eruption. The earthquake, one of dozens to hit the area in 24 hours, was the most powerful on the island since 1975, the US Geological Survey said.

Ikaika Marzo, who lives in the Big Island, said the jolts and tremors have been consistent.

“There are still plumes going out. There’s a couple cracks that’s close by that still have steam coming out,” Marzo told CNN affiliate KHON. “There’s a lot of glow, a lot of fires.”

The activity will continue, Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said Friday. “It doesn’t look like it is slowing down,” he said.

At least five volcanic vents have opened, Magno said, indicating that some structures were destroyed by lava.

‘Just basically heartbreak’

Neil Valentine and his family left their home in Leilani Estates on Thursday night. Shortly afterward, he saw a video on social media showing lava splashing and bubbling a few feet from his home, he told CNN affiliate KITV.

“Just basically heartbreak, my wife and I have been married going on 26 years, it was pretty much our dream home that we’ve been looking for all this time. Just knowing that we’re not going to have a house, my wife is still in tears,” he said.

Hundreds of people have evacuated from Leilani Estates, a community of about 1,700 people, and Lanipuna Gardens.

Harry Kim, mayor of Hawaii County, said the government will support residents who want to go back to their homes to pick up some belongings.

Cracks in Kilauea volcano’s rift zone — an area of fissures miles away from the summit — erupted Thursday and early Friday, spurting lava near the island’s eastern edge.

‘We had to evacuate’

Stephen Clapper was one of the evacuees. He asked his mother Friday to pack a bag, just in case.

“We had to evacuate. My mother was out of portable oxygen, so that’s a first concern. She’s 88 years old,” he told CNN affiliate KHON.

Lava set trees ablaze and threatened homes as gas spewed out of cracks in the ground. Clapper went back to the house, got his mother and the dogs, swept up some of his clothes in one arm, and took off for a shelter.

Hundreds without power

About 14,000 customers of Hawaii Electric Light lost power immediately after the earthquake. Spokeswoman Rhea Lee-Moku said power has been restored to about half of the customers, but sulfur gas levels in some areas are too high for employees to work.

“When you are exposed to that level of SO2 in the Leilani Estates area, you need more protection than we have available to us,” she said.

Concerns about sulfur dioxide

Destructive molten flows weren’t the only concern. Volcanic eruptions can release potentially dangerous sulfur dioxide. Fire department personnel have detected high levels of the gas in the evacuation area, the civil defense agency said.

Exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide can be life-threatening, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Breathing large amounts of sulfur dioxide can result in burning of the nose and throat, and breathing difficulties.

Senior citizens, the young and people with respiratory issues are especially vulnerable to the gas, the state’s Emergency Management Agency said.

Gov. David Ige said he’s activated the Hawaii National Guard to help with evacuations and security.

Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. It’s in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which closed Friday and evacuated all visitors and nonemergency staff.