An earthquake of magnitude 6.9 struck the Hawaiian archipelago on the flanks of Kilauea volcano on Friday, whose eruption the previous day caused lava flows, pink ash clouds and, more problematic, toxic fumes.
The earthquake occurred at 1832 at a depth of 5 kilometres 16 km southwest of Leilani Estates, one of the localities where the authorities mobilised to keep hundreds of people away from the volcano.
According to the US Geological and Seismological Agency (USGS), the earthquake occurred “almost exactly in the same place as the deadly earthquake of 1975, with a magnitude of 7.1” which left two dead and 28 wounded on the island of Hawaii, the largest of the American archipelago located in the Pacific.
A previous magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck earlier Friday, and the authorities warned that the seismic activity that triggered the eruption of Kilauea Volcano, one of five active volcanoes on the island, will continue.
Governor of Hawaii, David Ige, declared a state of emergency to unlock additional resources.
As in previous eruptions, the local media broadcast images of incandescent lava slowly gaining ground in areas where access was blocked by law enforcement or bubbling out of a crack in a forest.
No casualties have been reported, but several homes have been destroyed, according to the authorities.
“Active volcanic fountains are occurring in the Leilani Estates neighbourhood right now. All residents are ordered to evacuate immediately, “the Hawaii County Civil Protection Agency had tweeted around 9 am.
A few hours earlier, she warned that firefighters had reported “extremely high levels of sulphur dioxide, a dangerous gas, in the evacuation zone.”
Some 770 buildings and 1700 people are undergoing mandatory evacuations at Leilani Estates, the governor tweeted. The Lanipuna Gardens neighbourhood is also undergoing mandatory evacuation.
In total, nearly 10,000 people live in the region.
Kilauea volcano, which rises to 1247 meters, erupted Thursday at 4:45 pm local. It is one of the most active in the world.
An earthquake of magnitude 5, followed by many aftershocks, was recorded Thursday morning hours before the eruption began. Located south of Puu Oo’s eruptive mouth on the flanks of Kilauea, this jolt caused rock falls and a potential rupture in the crater of the volcano, according to USGS.
It was the most important of a hundred earthquakes sometimes minor – around a magnitude 2.0– supported since Monday by the inhabitants.
“It’s like the whole house is shaking. As if someone who is 160 kilos comes into my living room and keeps jumping, “said Carol Shepard, a resident, on the local channel KHON2. “It’s over,” she said.
Jeremiah Osuna, another resident of the affected area, filmed with a drone the red lava flow that looks like “a curtain of fire”.
“It scolded as if we had put stones in a tumble dryer and had it run at full speed. You could smell sulphur and burning trees, “Osuna was quoted by KHON2 as saying.
“I was a little shaken and realized how dangerous it is to live near the volcano,” he added.
Scientists have been observing a “magma intrusion” in the area since Monday, anticipating a possible eruption, said Janet Babb, a geologist with the Hawaii Volcano Observatory.
“At least three small volcanic fissures have opened in the Leilani Estates Subdivision (…) At this point, the activity consists mainly of vigorous lava splashes. Further eruptions in the area are likely, “detailed the observatory of the volcano, attached to the USGS Institute, in a statement at 13:45 Friday.
“Significant levels of volcanic gas have been reported around the cracks,” the statement said.
The island of Hawaii, often called Big Island, is the largest of the eight main islands of the archipelago made up of 137 islands in total.