Volcanic eruption sends over 2000 residents packing from their ancestral homes

The sound of eruptions from Hawaii’s volcano rang through the air as Leilani Abaya gathered her belongings to flee the volcanic activity and lava that has destroyed more than two dozen homes.

“We had trash bags and we were just, you know, literally grabbing anything and everything that was the most important to us at that time,” Abaya, a mother of two, said Wednesday. She has lived in Leilani Estates on Hawaii’s Big Island for about six months and joined nearly 2,000 others who have been ordered to evacuate.

“There was a few times while we were down there where the sounds coming from the eruption was so enormous that it just stopped all of us that was there in our tracks,” she said.

The erupting Kilauea volcano has been spewing lava for more than a week, and the island suffered a series of earthquakes that included a strong 6.9-magnitude temblor on May 4. A total of 36 structures, at least 27 of which were homes, have been destroyed, officials said.

President Donald Trump on Friday approved a major disaster declaration ordering federal assistance to be provided for recovery efforts. Hawaii Gov. David Ige said the help would go toward public facilities such as roads, public parks, schools and water pipes damaged in the eruption or earthquakes.

Lava from the volcano, which has been erupting since 1983, has reshaped the landscape, adding more than 443 acres of land to Kilauea’s southeastern shore as of the end of 2016, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

But whether the area affected by the current activity can be rebuilt remains uncertain.

“We really don’t know the extent of the damage and whether or not people can actually rebuild,” Hawaii state Rep. Joy A. San Buenaventura, who represents the Puna district where Leilani Estates is located, told NBC News Thursday. Another question, she said, “is whether or not you should rebuild” in areas more likely to see lava flows.

The current eruptive period is not over. The USGS warns Kilauea could see explosive eruptions in the coming days or weeks that throw “ballistic blocks” for a half-mile or more. A geothermal plant is threatened and residents of Lower Puna have been advised to be ready to leave.

On Saturday a new fissure, the 16th, opened in the area, though no significant lava flow from that fissure had been detected, the USGS said. “Conditions could change quickly,” the agency said.

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