The latest eruptions of Kilauea, the most active volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, have rendered parts of a once-serene neighborhood on the island unrecognizable.

On April 30, the floor of a crater on top of the volcano collapsed, sending its pool of lava back underground and causing small earthquakes. Scientists predicted the magma would travel elsewhere and push its way back to the surface somewhere in the East Rift Zone. They were correct.

Days later, the ground split open on the east side of the island’s Leilani Estates neighborhood, exposing an angry red beneath the lush landscape. From the widening gash, molten rock burbled and splashed, then shot dozens of feet in the air.

Officials called it “active volcanic fountaining.” Some residents insisted it was Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, coming to reclaim her land. Hundreds of residents were ordered to flee amid threats of fires and high levels of dangerous sulfur dioxide gas.

Soon, another such fissure had formed a few streets to the west. Then another and another. From the vents, hot steam — and noxious gases — rose, before magma broke through and splattered into the air.

Dozens of earthquakes — including the strongest to hit Hawaii in more than four decades — have jolted the Big Island’s residents, some as they were in the midst of evacuating.

Fifteen fissures have been reported in and around Leilani Estates. Lava spouted along the vents and oozed through the neighborhood, leaving lines of smoldering trees in its wake and igniting cars and buildings.
So far, lava has covered at least 116 acres on the island, destroying 36 structures, including more than two dozen homes.

And now, there’s a new concern: The ongoing surge in volcanic activity could cause a massive explosion from Kilauea’s summit in the next few weeks. Scientists and officials warned Wednesday that such an explosion could cause the volcano to spew “ballistic blocks weighing as much as 10 or 12 tons.”

Read more:

Reporter Anna Rothschild explores the science of the Kilauea volcano, and explains why some volcanoes erupt explosively while others are more gentle. (Billy Tucker, Anna Rothschild/The Washington Post)