Hawaii officials, scientists reflect on beauty and destruction of 2018 Kīlauea eruption

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Sights from the 2018 Kīlauea eruption still have scientists and those called to duty to Hawaii island three years ago in awe.

“For many volcanologists, I guess myself included, it was the eruption of a career,” said Scott Rowland, University of Hawaii Manoa earth science specialist.

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“You really understand that when Pele wants the land back, she’s going to take it,” said Lt. Col. David Hatcher, a task force commander in 2018 for the Hawaii National Guard. “Fissure 8 was just incredible, just the heat and the size and then the fast movement of the lava.”

The 2018 eruption is still remembered for its incredible sights, but also as the most destructive eruption in Hawaii’s history.

“The earthquakes were localized in Leilani Estates, and cracks formed in the ground. Then there were small fissures that eventually became a great big fissure,” Rowland said.

For more than four months, Kīlauea spewed lava, leaving behind boulders of volcanic forms. The eruption also claimed 700 homes and displaced thousands of residents.

“Nobody knew how long it was going to last or when they could go back,” said Martin Moran, Hawaii County Red Cross director. “The shelter itself was in the glow of the eruption.”

The Red Cross and federal agencies took on what they said was the largest shelter operation in the island’s history, which lasted 137 days and at one point, housed nearly 700 people.

“We had to secure the area around there, especially Leilani Estates. It became very dangerous for people to be there,” said Lt. Col. Hatcher.

After the 2018 eruption, the summit lava lake for the first time ever began to fill with water. Then on Dec. 21, 2020, Kīlauea became active once again — this time in Halema’uma’u Crater. That eruption lasted until May 2021. Officials said that eruption was not destructive, but both events will go down in history.

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“It was an incredible act of nature, but the impact on the community is still being felt in a big way on this island,” said Kenneth Hon, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge.

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