Toxic gas reaches extreme levels as new fissures open

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In addition to lava, another threat poses a serious concern: toxic fumes.

Two new fissures opened in Leilani Estates Tuesday, prompting Hawaii County Civil Defense to alert residents of neighboring Lanipuna Gardens to evacuate immediately toward the ocean.

The area had been considered off-limits since this latest eruption began.

In Leilani Estates, thick, white gas billowed from cracks in the asphalt Tuesday.

For his safety, Lt. Aaron Hew Land wore a mask to keep from inhaling sulfur dioxide. The Hawaii National Guard is monitoring toxic fume levels.

“I counted off 10 cracks all in the range over, I would guesstimate two to four inches, and in that two- to four-inch range, we were already well over what we would consider safe,” Hew Land said.

Sulfur dioxide is an irritant and, at high levels, can cause respiratory damage.

Caution tape stretches over the road to warn residents of the high levels of sulfur dioxide. The official plea is to stay out.

But for those who call this subdivision home, that’s hard to do.

Leilani Estates resident Julie Leialoha lives on Leilani Avenue. She went back in Tuesday to pick up belongings.

Madam Pele spared her house, but there’s another concern: sulfur dioxide.

“It’s like choking on rotten eggs fumes. It’s really thick, just makes your eyes water, your throat hurts, everything hurts. Your lungs literally ache, so you just gotta run,” she said. “My house is fine, standing so far, but it’s just saturated with SO2.

“The only bummer part is I can’t find any of my pets. I had to leave,” she continued. “They were freaked out. They just took off, so I have five cats running around somewhere. I’m going to go check with the humane society, because I know they were in here trying to get animals, so hopefully they were able to catch the things, but we’ll see.”

Leialoha is keeping her fingers crossed she finds her pets. She’s also keeping her neighbors in her prayers. Their houses were destroyed.

Lava oozed over the road and over the property where a house once stood. All that’s left is a mailbox.

A few roads down, on Hookupu Street, lava settled over the once busy road and cemented a downed utility pole.

It’s the road Raylene Lerum takes to get to her house.

“it doesn’t seem real. We walk our dogs up and down this street every day,” Lerum said.

Lerum and her son evacuated last week.

“You just felt it. It was almost like we could feel, and we didn’t think it was real at first, but it’s almost like you could feel the lava flowing under you. It was like we’d sit in the living room and you could feel it, just kind of, just the vibration was strange,” Lerum said.

The fate of her home is uncertain.

“It’s very difficult not knowing, and they didn’t know. They couldn’t give us addresses last night, which was frustrating,” Lerum said.

Lerum says she’ll do what it takes to get home.

“I just wanted to see if I can get into it now, just to make sure it’s okay and not gone,” she said.

“Tutu’s gonna do what tutu’s gonna do. Just gotta hope everything works out, and it’ll work out. We’re pretty resilient people,” said Leialoha.

Massive sulfur dioxide plumes, extracted from ASTER’s multiple thermal bands, are shown here in yellow and green. (Coutesy: NASA)

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