A Million Told to Flee S. Carolina Coast as Florence Menaces

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Jonathan Drew / The Associated Press.

RALEIGH, N.C.—Florence exploded into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds up to 130 mph and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week.

Communities along a stretch of coastline that’s vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change prepared to evacuate. The South Carolina governor ordered the state’s entire coastline to be evacuated starting at noon Tuesday and predicted that 1 million people would flee. And Virginia’s governor ordered a mandatory evacuation for some residents of low-lying coastal areas.

The storm’s first effects were already apparent on barrier islands as dangerous rip currents hit beaches and seawater flowed over a state highway.

For many people, the challenge could be finding a safe refuge: If Florence slows to a crawl just off the coast, it could bring torrential rains to the Appalachian mountains and as far away as West Virginia, causing flash floods, mudslides and other dangerous conditions.

The storm’s potential path also includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous hog farms that store animal waste in massive open-air lagoons.

Airlines, including American and Southwest, have started letting passengers change travel plans that take them into the hurricane’s possible path.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned that Florence was forecast to linger over the Carolinas once it reaches shore. People living well inland should prepare to lose power and endure flooding and other hazards, he warned.

“It’s not just the coast,” Graham said. “When you stall a system like this and it moves real slow, some of that rainfall can extend well away from the center.”

A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and Florence will be moving over waters where temperatures are peaking near 85 degrees (30 Celsius), hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote. And with little wind shear to pull the storm apart, Florence’s hurricane wind field was expected to expand over the coming days, increasing its storm surge and inland wind threats.

By noon Monday, Florence was centered about 1,230 miles (1,985 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving west at 13 mph (20 kph). Its center will move between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday and approach the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Two other storms were spinning in the Atlantic. Hurricane Isaac was expected to lose strength as it reaches the Caribbean, and Helene, much farther out to sea, may veer northward into the open ocean as the 2018 hurricane season reaches its peak.

In the Pacific, Hurricane Olivia triggered warnings for multiple Hawaiian islands as it blew west toward an arrival over the state as soon as late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Preparations for Florence were intensifying up and down the densely populated coast. Since reliable record-keeping began more than 150 years ago, North Carolina has been hit by only one Category 4 hurricane: Hazel, with 130 mph winds, in 1954.

The parking lot has been full for three days at the Ace Hardware store in coastal Calabash, North Carolina, where manager Tom Roberts said he sold 150 gas cans in two hours Monday, along with generators, plywood, rope, manual can openers, sand bags and a plethora of other items.

“I’ve been doing this since 1983,” Roberts said as he completed an order for another 18-wheeler full of supplies. “This is the craziest one.”

Many newcomers have moved to the coast in the nearly 19 years since the last strong hurricane — Floyd — threatened the area. Roberts said he’s telling them to get out of town.

“I’m telling them to go inland, but I’m worried about the rain and tornadoes too,” Roberts said.

Several meteorologists said Florence could do what Hurricane Harvey did last year over Texas, dumping days of rain, although not quite as bad.

“I think this is very Harvey-esque,” said University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy. “Normally, a landfalling tropical cyclone just keeps on going inland, gradually dissipating and raining itself out. But on rare occasions, the steering patterns can line up such that a storm slips into a dead zone between troughs and ridges.”

On North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Dawn Farrow Taylor, 50, was gathering photos and important documents and filling prescriptions Monday before heading inland. She grew up on the island chain, and says this will be only the second time she’s evacuated.

“I don’t think many of us have ever been through a Category 4. And out here we’re so fragile. We’re just a strip of land — we’re a barrier island,” she said.

In the village of Buxton, Liz Browning Fox plans to ride the storm out in her house on top of a ridge. She believes her home, built in 2009, will be secure, but it’s hard to foresee all potential hazards.

“You never know, there could be tree missiles coming from any direction,” she said. “There is no way to be completely safe.”

In announcing his evacuation order, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said an estimated 1 million people would be fleeing the coast. Eastbound lanes of Interstate 26 heading into Charleston and U.S. 501 heading into Myrtle Beach will be reversed when the order takes effect.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said his state was “in the bullseye” of the storm and urged people to “get ready now.”

___

Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay in Miami; Jeffrey Collins and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Read more

Q&A: With Severe Storms Approaching the U.S., What to Expect?

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by COLLIN BINKLEY / The Associated Press.

Emergency officials are urging residents to prepare for severe storms that are forecast to hit the East Coast and Hawaii over the next week at what is the peak of this year’s hurricane season.

Coming in from the Atlantic Ocean, Tropical Storm Florence is expected to make landfall Thursday as a level 3 hurricane or greater, steered by winds that could guide it as far south as Florida or as far north as New England.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Olivia is forecast to hit the Hawaiian Islands as a tropical storm on Wednesday, bringing heavy rains just two weeks after Hurricane Lane caused major flooding.

A look at what forecasters are predicting for those storms and the rest of the season:

___

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE STORMS RIGHT NOW?

Tropical Storm Florence was gathering strength Saturday, with the National Hurricane Center expecting it to become a hurricane overnight. Five days out from expected landfall, there’s still wide uncertainty about where it will hit and at what intensity, but the latest models show that it’s most likely to make landfall in the southeast U.S., between northern Florida and North Carolina.

Still, there’s a chance it could be pushed farther north and strike along the mid-Atlantic or New England coast, threatening to make landfall between Virginia and Massachusetts. No matter where it lands, there’s a chance it could stall out and pummel the coasts for days.

The latest models on Saturday show that it’s becoming less likely the storm will veer north and miss the mainland U.S. entirely. At minimum, residents along the East Coast are being told to expect heavy rainfall and storm surges, with the possibility of heavy winds.

Forecasters are also keeping an eye on two storms gathering behind Florence. Tropical Storm Helene was expected to reach the Cabo Verde islands on Saturday but is predicted to miss the mainland U.S. A tropical depression that was upgraded to Tropical Storm Isaac on Saturday is headed toward the Caribbean and brings a greater chance of curving north toward Puerto Rico and the mainland, potentially as a hurricane.

It’s still uncertain whether Hurricane Olivia will make landfall in the Hawaiian Islands, but at minimum meteorologists believe it will come very close and deliver a new round of rainfall.

The National Weather Service has also issued a typhoon watch in the U.S. territory of Guam, where Tropical Storm Mangkhut is approaching from the east and is expected to bring damaging winds by Monday evening.

___

WHEN WILL WE HAVE A BETTER IDEA OF WHETHER THEY POSE A THREAT?

Each day brings a clearer picture of the risks posed by the storms. Jeff Masters, co-founder of the Weather Underground service, says airplanes gathering weather information began flying into Florence on Saturday, which should provide data that will lead to a major boost in the reliability of models on Sunday.

Isaac’s route is still wildly uncertain and will be for days. Forecasters are more confident that Olivia will affect Hawaii, with its path and intensity sharpening in the next few days.

___

WHAT FACTORS GIVE FLORENCE A CHANCE OF BEING A PARTICULARLY STRONG HURRICANE?

By the time it reaches the East Coast, Florence could strengthen into a major hurricane. Winds higher up in Florence have been weakening, giving it time to gather itself and gain strength over the ocean, experts say. And it’s also approaching water where the temperature is slightly warmer than average, providing heat that the storm can convert into stronger winds.

___

HOW SHOULD PEOPLE IN AREAS VULNERABLE TO HURRICANES STAY PREPARED?

Residents in evacuation zones are urged to have a plan to flee if the order comes. Others should have at least a week’s supply of food, water and medication for their families and their pets.

Brian McNoldy, a senior researcher at the University of Miami’s school of marine and atmospheric science, says residents who stick it out should have gas cans to fuel their cars and power generators, and should take out some cash in case electronic payment systems are down after the storms pass.

To avoid a headache down the line, residents are also encouraged to keep insurance documents in a safe place ahead of time.

North Carolina’s governor already issued a state of emergency on Friday as the storm advanced, while officials in other coastal states say they’re monitoring forecasts.

___

WHAT EXPECTATIONS DO FORECASTERS HAVE FOR THE REST OF THE HURRICANE SEASON?

The second week of September is the peak of hurricane season, so the flurry of activity is no surprise to forecasters. After the current round of storms, though, long-range models suggest a lull for several weeks.

Masters said there’s a chance for another active period by mid-October, which would mark the end of the busiest stretch of the season.

“I don’t think we’re quite done yet,” he said, “but certainly as far as September goes, this is the big week.”

Read more

Storm Veers Away From Sodden Hawaii

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by AUDREY McAVOY and CALEB JONES / The Associated Press.

HONOLULU—Hawaii emerged Saturday from the threat of a potentially devastating hurricane after flooding forced evacuations on some islands but damage appeared less than feared despite historic amounts of rain.

Tropical Storm Lane, once known as Hurricane Lane, began to break apart as it veered west into the open Pacific, leaving behind sighs of relief and plenty of clean-up, especially on the Big Island where rainfall totals approached 4 feet (1.2 meters).

No storm-related deaths have been reported, though Big Island authorities said they plucked families from flood waters and landslides had closed roads.

The National Weather Service canceled all storm warnings for the state, several hours after shopkeepers in Honolulu’s tourist-heavy areas started taking down plywood meant to protect windows if the storm had made it that far.

Preliminary figures from the weather service show that Lane dropped the fourth-highest amount of rain for a hurricane to hit the United States since 1950. Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Texas a year ago, topped the list.

The storm’s outer bands dumped as much as 45 inches (114 centimeters) on the mostly rural Big Island, measurements showed. The main town of Hilo, with 43,000 people, was flooded Friday with waist-high water and authorities rescued people from more than 20 homes overnight, Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe said.

Landslides and pooling water forced the temporary closure of several highways, but the flooding was not as bad as it might have been because porous volcanic rock on parts of the Big Island absorbed it, said Brooke Bingaman, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Honolulu.

One of the island’s volcanoes is still erupting, and the rain could still cause whiteout conditions on some active lava fields due to steam.

About 200 miles and several islands to the northwest, tourists wandered Waikiki Beach and took leisurely swims as shopkeepers prepared to reopen.

Hotels began putting deck chairs back alongside pools. Dozens of surfers were in the Pacific, riding small waves. The breeze was light.

Winds were also calmer on Maui, which had seen about 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain and wind gusts up to 50 mph (80 kph). On Saturday, winds were about 11 mph. Like the Big Island, Maui experienced flooding and landslides.

Lane first approached the islands earlier this week as a Category 5 hurricane, meaning it was likely to cause catastrophic damage with winds of 157 mph (252 kph) or above. But upper-level winds known as shear swiftly tore the storm apart.

As flooding hit the Big Island, winds fanned brush fires that had broken out in dry areas of Maui and Oahu. Some residents in a shelter on Maui had to flee flames, and another fire forced people from their homes.

Flames burned nine homes in the historic coastal town of Lahaina and forced 600 people to evacuate, Maui County spokeswoman Lynn Araki-Regan said. Some have returned, but many have not because much of the area lacks power, Araki-Regan said.

Those outages meant the water provider on Maui’s west side was unable to pump, so officials at the Maui Electric utility urged conservation — particularly important because firefighters need supplies to put out the remaining flames.

The central Pacific gets fewer hurricanes than other regions, with only about four or five named storms a year. Hawaii rarely gets hit. The last major storm to hit was Iniki in 1992. Others have come close in recent years.

___

Brian Skoloff and John Locher in Honolulu; Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska; Darlene Superville in Washington; and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Read more

Hurricane Lane Bears Down on Hawaii, Dumping Rain on Big Island

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER / The Associated Press.

HONOLULU—Hurricane Lane soaked Hawaii’s Big Island on Thursday, dumping 12 inches of rain in as many hours as residents stocked up on supplies and tried to protect their homes ahead of the state’s first hurricane since 1992.

The National Weather Service warned that some areas could see up to 30 inches (76 centimeters) before the system passes. Bands of rain extended 350 miles (566 kilometers) from the hurricane’s center.

“Even though the eye is south of the Big Island, we are seeing excessive rainfall already affecting the islands,” weather service meteorologist Gavin Shigesato said from Honolulu.

Tropical storm conditions, with winds of 73 mph (118 kph), were expected to reach the Big Island, Hawaii’s easternmost major island, later Thursday morning, with hurricane conditions possible later in the day.

As of 2 a.m., the hurricane was 335 miles (540 kilometers) south of Honolulu and moving northwest. Maximum winds had weakened slightly to 130 mph, Shigesato said.

The storm was expected to turn to the north later Thursday and into Friday, with little change expected in forward speed. The center could move close to or over portions of the main islands on Thursday or Friday. Then the storm will likely turn to the west Saturday and Sunday and pick up speed, forecasters said.

On Wednesday, the hurricane’s speed slowed from 9 mph to 7 mph (15 kph to 11 kph), Shigesato said. A slower hurricane increases the threat of flash floods and landslides because of prolonged rainfall.

The arrival of the storm’s outer bands made the threat seem more real.

“Everyone is starting to buckle down at this point,” said Christyl Nagao of Kauai. “Our families are here. We have businesses and this and that. You just have to man your fort and hold on tight.”

Shelters opened Wednesday on the Big Island and on the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Officials urged those needing the Molokai shelter to get there soon because of concerns that the main highway on the island’s south coast could become impassable.

On the island of Oahu, which was put on a hurricane warning late Wednesday, shelters were scheduled to open Thursday. Officials were also working to help Hawaii’s sizeable homeless population, many of whom live near beaches and streams that could flood.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Tom Travis said there’s not enough shelter space statewide and advised people who were not in flood zones to stay home.

Authorities also warned that the shelters are not designed to withstand winds greater than about 40 mph (64 kph) and that for most people they should be a “last resort.”

“Whenever possible, the public should plan to shelter in place or stay with family or friends in homes outside of these hazard areas that were designed, built or renovated to withstand anticipated conditions,” the city and county of Honolulu said in a statement.

Hurricanes are ranked 1 to 5 according to what is known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Lane is at Category 4, with winds from 130 to 156 mph (209 to 251 kph).

Melanie Davis, who lives in a Honolulu suburb, said she was gathering canned food and baby formula.

“We’re getting some bags of rice and, of course, some Spam,” she said of the canned lunch meat that’s popular in Hawaii.

She was organizing important documents into a folder — birth and marriage certificates, Social Security cards, insurance paperwork — and making sure her three children, all under 4, have flotation devices such as swimming vests “just in case.”

Public schools were closed for the rest of the week, and local government workers were told to stay home unless they are essential employees.

Meteorologist Chevy Chevalier said Lane may weaken to a Category 3 by Thursday afternoon but that would still be a major hurricane.

The central Pacific gets fewer hurricanes than other regions, with about only four or five named storms a year. Hawaii rarely gets hit. The last major storm to hit was Iniki in 1992. Others have come close in recent years.

“We’re planning on boarding up all our windows and sliding doors,” Napua Puaoi of Wailuku, Maui, said after buying plywood from Home Depot. “As soon as my husband comes home — he has all the power tools.”

Puaoi was 12 at the time of Hurricane Iniki.

“When it did happen, I just remember pandemonium. It was all-out craziness,” she said.

Unlike Florida or Texas, where residents can get in their cars and drive hundreds of miles to safety, people in Hawaii are confined to the islands and must stay put. They have to make sure they have enough supplies to outlast prolonged power outages and other potential emergencies.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has several barges with food, water and supplies that it moved into the region ahead of Hurricane Hector, which skirted past the islands more than a week ago, according to FEMA Administrator Brock Long.

The U.S. Navy was moving ships and submarines out of Hawaii. All vessels not currently undergoing maintenance were being positioned to help respond after the storm, if needed.

President Donald J. Trump issued a disaster declaration Wednesday, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate disaster-relief efforts with the state.

___

Associated Press writers Mark Thiessen and Dan Joling in Anchorage, Alaska, and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

Read more

In Hawaii, an End of Innocence

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Gregory Glover.

A 6.9 earthquake that struck Hawaii’s Big Island on May 4 was just the beginning of an ordeal that still continues for the people of Puna, a semirural district on the eastern slopes of the island’s Kilauea volcano.

The previous day, the ground split open in the verdant community of Leilani Estates and a series of fissures began spewing fountains of magma and emitting poisonous gases. Leilani’s 1,800 residents were evacuated. More than 700 homes and farms were lost in subsequent weeks as a lava river flowed to the Pacific Ocean and consumed more residential areas.

A volcanic cone has grown to almost 200 feet tall in the middle of the Leilani community as the vigorous eruption continues for the 11th week. Earthquakes triggered by volcanic explosions rock the summit of Kilauea daily, damaging roads and buildings in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and forcing its indefinite closure. The southeast coastline of the Big Island is forever altered as lava meets the ocean along a two-mile front.

Thousands of people remain displaced. Hundreds are still in evacuation shelters, others are staying with friends or relatives or have moved to neighboring Hawaiian islands or the mainland.

Another blow to Hawaiians came Wednesday, when a Puna charter school, three more homes in Leilani and a popular beach park were inundated.

Sara Simone Wagner’s Leilani home still stands, but she remains evacuated, staying with friends in Hilo, the Big Island’s largest city. She has touched the hearts of many traumatized Hawaiians with a poem she published on the neighborhood social network. The poem speaks to her love of the land, the sometimes terrifying power of nature and, as she puts it, “the end of our innocence.”  Truthdig is pleased to reprint it here.

Sweet Leilani

By Sara Simone Wagner

May, a month of promise and beauty
gentle showers
fruiting trees
budding flowers
calming seas

Rolling shakes wake Puna’s slumber
draining caldera
exploding methane
mounting hysteria
we’re never the same

Fissures appear stage left—and stage right
performance fire
once-verdant plains
landscapes mired
sulphuric stains

Subtle cracks, soon gaping chasms
shifting rift zones
explosive night
mounting cinder cones
nature’s might

Alexander palms against a red night sky
terrain shifting
burning Makamae
pahoehoe drifting
scorching Kahukai

Bolders fly through pressured cracks
tephra covered pain
breaks on Alapai
toxic poison rain
missing pets on Pomaikai

Cruel slow burn and acrid air
seizes homes and structures
collateral damage
civil defense lectures
interrupted lives to manage

Kilauea unrelents with ashy plumes
fingers of lava
hot unwanted embrace
like too-hot java
burns at the taste

Moku gashed open like a battle scar
lava hits sizzling ocean
new land will avow
painful emotions
deep as Halemaumau

Evening curfews with midnight looters
gas masks tightened
tears escalations
anxiety heightened
forced evacuations

Hissing bay with dangerous laze
lava articulates
homes burn slow
caldera again deflates
We mourn Kapoho

Power outages and scorching air
crimson glows at night
our reminder you see
of Pele’s might
in our sweet, sweet Leilani

(Makamae, Kahukai, Alapai, Pomaikai and Moku are the names of streets in Leilani Estates. Pahoehoe is a lava formation that looks like rope strands. Tephra is the name for rock fragments and particles ejected in an eruption. Halemaumau is the collapsing crater at the Kilauea summit. Laze is toxic haze formed when lava enters the ocean. Kapoho is another community that was lost to the current flow. Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of fire, respected as creator and destroyer of the island chain.)

Read more

In Hawaii, Trauma Follows Shock and Loss

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Gregory Glover / Truthdig Staff.

One harrowing month into the eruption of Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, the community’s social fabric is being strained by a daily barrage of shock and loss.

On May 3, the ground split open in the Puna district community of Leilani Estates and lava began to explode from a line of two dozen fissures. The next day, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook the island and the first of 87 homes, at latest count, was incinerated by lava. Livelihoods have been lost as at least 4,000 acres of agricultural land have been inundated and the tourism industry takes a major hit.

The normally laid-back people of Puna are showing increasing signs of trauma:

● In lava-devastated Leilani Estates, a man faced a string of charges Wednesday after allegedly shooting at a neighbor.

● Another Leilani resident defied police instructions to stay out of the evacuation zone and, apparently intoxicated, crashed his pickup truck into a wall of lava that had hardened across a closed section of highway. He was arrested Thursday.

● A man registered at one of the island’s evacuation shelters was found dead in a wooded area near the shelter, an apparent suicide. Police said he was despondent after the breakup of a romantic relationship.

For disaster-weary Puna, there’s no end in sight. Several fissures are still spewing great volumes of lava and one—known as Fissure 8—is fueling a rapid new flow to the ocean.

On Thursday, more areas of hard-hit Leilani Estates faced mandatory evacuation. Authorities worried that a swollen lava channel could breach its banks.

On Friday, the residents of two more communities, Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland, were given hours to get out or be isolated by a fast-moving lava flow front that has grown to 300 yards wide. The flow crossed the area’s last road to safety Saturday morning.

In the past week, lava claimed more of the Puna Geothermal Venture plant, which supplied 20 percent of the island’s energy until it was abandoned as the flow approached—exacerbating the island’s problems. The plant has faced opposition since its inception in 1989: Neighboring residents have long feared that a potential lava inundation could cause an uncontrolled release of dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas, although emergency management officials consider that scenario unlikely.

As if the eruption wasn’t destructive and scary enough, Hawaii island is dealing with other torments with intriguing names: vog, laze and Pele’s hair.

Vog is sulfur dioxide-laced volcanic fog. (Sunday’s vog level in Puna and the Big Island’s southwest is predicted to be hazardous.) Laze is lava haze, which forms when lava enters the ocean and is a poisonous brew of hydrogen chloride and tiny slivers of glass. Pele’s hair, named for the volcano goddess Pele, is the eruptive fallout of fine strands of volcanic glass.

All these put downwind communities at risk, as does volcanic ash, which has been regularly exploding from the crumbling Halemaumau crater at the Kilauea summit. Borne on prevailing trade winds, the ash is coating the towns of Volcano, Pahala and Kau district neighborhoods. The latest in a swarm of earthquakes associated with the summit explosions registered 5.4 on the Richter scale Friday.

More than 400 residents are in emergency shelters; some have been displaced for as long as a month. A number of organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and United Way, are accepting donations.

The shelters have been busy offering mental health counseling to those in need. Emergency personnel are stretched to the breaking point dealing with the ever-changing conditions.

“It’s almost like your life is on hold,” said Leilani Estates evacuee John Davidson. “It’s not like it’s a hurricane where you think, ‘OK, in three days it’ll be here and go.’ … This is almost like a slow-motion train wreck.”

Truthdig is running a reader-funded project to document the Poor People’s Campaign. Please help us by making a donation.

Read more

Hawaii’s Ordeal Ramps Up: Lava Torrents, Flying Rocks, Acidic Air

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by CALEB JONES and JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER / The Associated Press.

PAHOA, Hawaii—A volcano that is oozing, spewing and exploding on Hawaii’s Big Island has gotten more hazardous in recent days, with rivers of molten rock flowing into the ocean and flying lava causing the first major injury.

Kilauea volcano began erupting more than two weeks ago and has burned dozens of homes, forced people to flee and shot up plumes of steam from its summit that led officials to distribute face masks to protect against ash particles.

Lava flows have grown more vigorous in past days, spattering molten rock that hit a man in the leg.

He was outside his home Saturday in the remote, rural region affected by the volcano when the lava “hit him on the shin, and shattered everything from there down on his leg,” Janet Snyder, Hawaii County mayor’s spokeswoman, told the Hawaii News Now TV station.

Lava that’s flying through the air from cracks in the Earth can weigh as much as a refrigerator and even small pieces can be lethal, officials said.

The injury came the same day lava streamed across a highway and flowed into the ocean. The phenomenon sends hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles into the air and can lead to lung damage and eye and skin irritation, another danger for residents as the plume can shift with the wind, the Hawaii County Civil Defense agency said.

The highway has shut down in some spots, and residents in the area have been evacuated.

With the problems compounding, scientists can’t say whether lava flows from nearly two dozen fissures will keep advancing or stop.

“We have no way of knowing whether this is really the beginning or toward the end of this eruption,” said Tom Shea, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii. “We’re kind of all right now in this world of uncertainty.”

The area affected by lava and ash is small compared with the Big Island, which is about 4,000 square miles (10,360 square kilometers). The volcano has spared most of the island and the rest of the Hawaiian chain.

Officials have reminded tourists that flights, including on the Big Island, have not been affected. Even on the Big Island, most tourist activities are available and businesses are open.

Evacuation orders for two neighborhoods with nearly 2,000 people were given after the first fissure opened on May 3. Officials have been warning neighboring communities to be prepared to evacuate.

Lava flows have sped up as fresher magma mixes with decades-old magma, creating hotter and more fluid flows, scientists said. Two fissures had merged by Saturday, creating a wide flow moving at up to 300 yards (274 meters) per hour.

Edwin Montoya, who lives with his daughter on her farm near where lava crossed a roadway and trapped a handful of people Friday, said the fissure opened and grew quickly.

“It was just a little crack in the ground, with a little lava coming out,” he said. “Now it’s a big crater that opened up where the small little crack in the ground was.”

___

Kelleher reported from Honolulu. Associated Press journalists Jae Hong and Marco Garcia in Pahoa contributed to this report.

Truthdig has launched a reader-funded project—its first ever—to document the Poor People’s Campaign. Please help us by making a donation.

Read more

Hawaii Volcano Sends More Lava, Sulfur Gas Into Communities

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by CALEB JONES and MARCO GARCIA / The Associated Press.

PAHOA, Hawaii — The Kilauea volcano sent more lava into Hawaii communities Friday, a day after forcing more than 1,500 people to flee from their mountainside homes, and authorities detected high levels of sulfur gas that could threaten the elderly and people with breathing problems.

The eruption that began with lava flying into the sky from a crack in a road continued with reports of molten rock spurting from several volcanic vents. Neighborhoods downhill from the vents were at risk of being covered up. At least two homes were destroyed, officials said.

Julie Woolsey lives on a street where a vent opened up and channeled lava to within 1,000 yards (914 meters) of her house. When it appeared, she freed her chickens, loaded her dogs into her truck and evacuated with her daughter and grandson.

“We knew we were building on an active volcano,” she said, recalling how she purchased the lot on the Big Island for $35,000 more than a decade ago after living on Maui became too expensive. But she thought the danger from lava was a remote possibility.

“You can’t really predict what Pele is going to do,” she said, referring to the Hawaiian volcano goddess. “It’s hard to keep up. We’re hoping our house doesn’t burn down.”

The community of Leilani Estates near the town of Pahoa appeared to be in the greatest danger. Authorities also ordered an evacuation of Lanipuna Gardens, a smaller, more rural subdivision directly to the east. But scientists said new vents could form, and it was impossible to know where.

Civil defense officials cautioned the public about high levels of sulfur dioxide near the volcano and urged vulnerable people to leave immediately. Exposure to the gas can cause irritation or burns, sore throats, runny noses, burning eyes and coughing.

Maija Stenback began to get nervous when she noticed cracks in the streets near her home. On Thursday, she shot video of the lava as it bubbled and splattered across a street about six blocks from her house.

“You can feel it all the way into the core of your being,” she said. “It’s just that roaring and unbelievable power of the lava bubbling up and spitting up into the air.”

Stenback, her daughter and grandchildren packed as much as they could into their car. The two kids were each allowed to select three toys to take before the family left for a friend’s home about a 30-minute drive away.

“I have lived through a lot of lava flows here, but never this close before,” Stenback said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. At least 100 people were staying in shelters Friday, with many more evacuees believed to be with relatives and friends.

The Hawaii governor activated the National Guard to help with evacuations and provide security for properties that were abandoned when residents fled to safety.

Kilauea has erupted periodically for decades, and scientists said they have no way of predicting how long the eruption will continue.

A key factor will be whether a magma reservoir at the summit starts to drain in response to the eruption, which has not happened yet, said Asta Miklius, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

“There is quite a bit of magma in the system. . It won’t be just an hours-long eruption probably, but how long it will last will depend on whether the summit magma reservoir gets involved. And so we are watching that very, very closely,” Miklius said.

After a week of earthquakes, authorities had warned residents to be prepared to evacuate because an eruption would give little warning.

Henry Calio said the first sign that something might be wrong happened when cracks emerged in the driveway of his home in Leilani Estates. His wife, Stella, then received a call from an official who told them to get out immediately. They feared they might lose the house.

“This is our retirement dream,” Henry Calio said.

Kilauea’s Puu Oo crater floor began to collapse Monday, triggering the earthquakes and pushing the lava into new underground chambers. The collapse caused magma to push more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) downslope toward the populated southeast coastline of the island.

The magma later crossed under Highway 130, which leads to a popular volcano access point. Authorities closed the area to visitors and ordered private tour companies to stop taking people into the region.

Over the decades, most of Kilauea’s activity has been nonexplosive, but a 1924 eruption spewed ash and 10-ton (9-metric ton) rocks into the sky and killed one person.

A 1983 eruption resulted in lava fountains soaring over 1,500 feet (457 meters) into the sky. Since then, the lava flow has buried dozens of square miles of land and destroyed many homes.

___

Jones reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writers Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Read more

Hawaii Poised to Ban Sale of Sunscreens That Damage Coral

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by SOPHIA YAN / The Associated Press.

HONOLULU—Many sunscreen makers could soon be forced to change their formulas or be banned from selling the lotions in Hawaii.

State lawmakers passed a measure this week that would ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate by 2021 in an effort to protect coral reefs. Scientists have found the two substances can be toxic to coral, which are a vital part of the ocean ecosystem and a popular draw for tourists.

Consumers would only be allowed to buy sunscreen with the chemicals if prescribed by a health care provider, though the measure itself doesn’t ban online purchases or tourists from bringing their own to Hawaii.

It would become the first state to enact a ban on the chemicals if Democratic Gov. David Ige signs the bill; he has not indicated whether he will.

Similar legislation failed last year, after it pitted environmental scientists against businesses and trade groups that benefit from the $2 billion market for sun care products in the U.S.

This is “a first step to help our reef and protect it from deterioration,” said Hawaii state senator Donna Mercado Kim, a fellow Democrat who introduced the measure. Although other factors contribute to reef degradation, “hopefully, other jurisdictions will look at this legislation and follow suit.”

“This is the first real chance that local reefs have to recover,” said Craig Downs, a scientist whose 2015 peer-reviewed study found oxybenzone was a threat to coral reefs. “Lots of things kill coral reefs, but we know oxybenzone prevents them from coming back.” It also affects sea urchins and kills algae, a source of food for sea turtles, he said.

He found as much as 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion ends up in coral reefs annually.

Opponents are skeptical of the science.

“What we’re really concerned with is that there aren’t very many independent studies out there that have gone for peer review,” said Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii. She said the ban might discourage people from buying sunscreen products from local brick-and-mortar stores. The American Chemistry Council also opposed the bill, citing concerns over the dangers of sun exposure.

“It’s a feel good measure,” said Democrat Sharon Har, one of four lawmakers who voted against the bill. “Yes, we must protect the environment — it is our number one resource — but at the end of the day, studies have pointed to global warming, human contact, coastal development” as other significant threats to coral.

Many manufacturers already sell “reef-friendly” sunscreens, and companies can deplete current inventory ahead of the ban in 2021, Downs said.

Edgewell Personal Care, which makes Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen lotions, said it makes products free of the two chemicals. The company “will continue to ensure we comply with all relevant regulations concerning oxybenzone and octinoxate.”

“We have so many problems with coral bleaching, and there is already so much contamination,” said Dr. Yuanan Lu, a professor and director of the environmental health laboratory at the University of Hawaii, who applauded the passage. “We have so many people who come to Hawaii, and some of the sunscreen ingredients can be toxic, harmful to marine systems.”

Read more