HIL0, Hawaii —Hawaii’s largest island has become a “mix of paradise and a freaking hell-scape,” an Army National Guard spokesman says.
Despite the troubles with Mount Kilauea, business continues as usual across most of the island, Army Lt. Col Anthony said. He is public affairs officer for Hawaii’s Army National Guard.
"It's just a beautiful, picture-perfect day on a Hawaiian beach," he said. Then he contrasted it with the situation inside the evacuation zone, where toxic fumes kill foliage and hot lava obliterates structures.
"It's a mix of paradise and a freaking hell-scape," he said.
More than 140 National Guard troops are helping authorities handle evacuations, provide security and monitor air quality as Mount Kilauea spews out clouds of toxic gas and lava destroys homes in its path.
About 2,000 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes so far on the big island of Hawaii, but the majority are staying with friends and family, Anthony said.
Eruption of lava and ground cracking continues in the area of Leilani Estates subdivision.
The U.S. Geological Survey’s most recent updates says the most active eruptive activity in the Lower East Rift Zone shifted to the middle portion of the system of fissures.
For recent maps of activity, see: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/kilauea/multimedia_maps.html
Additional ground cracking and outbreaks of lava are possible in the area. Residents downslope of the region of fissures should heed all Count of Hawaii Civil Defense messages and warnings, the agency said.
Magma continues to be supplied to the lower East Rift Zone. Elevated earthquake activity continues, but earthquake locations have not moved farther down-rift in the past couple of days, and there were only a few earthquakes located today in the rift zone.
USGS/HVO continues to monitor the lower East Rift Zone activity 24/7 in coordination with Hawaii County Civil Defense, with geologists onsite to track ongoing and new fissure activity and the advance of lava flows.
Only a few hundred people are in temporary community shelters, Anthony said.
The troops have volunteered for active duty to help with evacuations and to man checkpoints in front of the lava flow. Other troops are standing by in case more evacuations are needed.
National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters are conducting aerial surveys to monitor the lava and check on fissures, Anthony said. At least 17 fissures in the Puna district are currently emitting lava and toxic gasses. One lava flow is approaching the Puna geothermal energy plant, and Anthony said that situation is being watched closely.
Members of the 93rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team are monitoring air quality to ensure dangerous gasses do not encroach on populated areas.
Last week National Guard soldiers went door to door in neighborhoods such as the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens to warn residents of the danger and advise them to evacuate in front of the approaching lava flow. Anthony said some residents waited until the last minute.
"I have no idea how anybody could stay inside that evacuation zone for days on end," Anthony said. "The amount of gas and smoke and steam ... sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid and all is incredibly nasty stuff."
The troops of JTF 5-0 are staged in the town of Hilo, about 15 miles north of the evacuation zone. They go into the evacuation zone for about four hours at a time to conduct roving patrols and help police man checkpoints, Anthony said.
Army Brig. Gen. Kenneth S. Hara is the task force commander. He is the deputy adjutant general of the Hawaii National Guard. Some active-duty officers and enlisted soldiers from the island of Oahu have joined Hara on the task force staff, Anthony said. They are planning for contingencies in case the volcano eruption worsens.