Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano Erupts, Prompting Mandatory Evacuations, High Levels of Dangerous Sulfur Dioxide Gas

Hawaii volucano
Lava flows from a crack in a still image taken from drone video over the Leilani Estates community on the Big Island. (Jeremiah Osuna, CNN)
By: Rosemary Piser

This story may be updated

Hawaii County police, fire, and county agencies, along with the National Guard and partners, continue to assist with an evacuation of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions in the face of a volcanic eruption in the area. All Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens Subdivision residents are ordered to evacuate immediately.

The volcanic eruption has spewed molten rock and hazardous gas from the ground sending people fleeing from their homes as trees burn and the threat of more destruction is feared.

A temporary flight restriction is in place for most of lower Puna. The Hawaii Police Department reminds the public that drones can be confiscated in the Temporary Flight Restriction Area (TFR). More information is available at

Cracks in Kilauea volcano’s rift zone — an area of fissures miles away from the summit — erupted Thursday and early Friday, spurting lava in Leilani Estates, a community of about 1,700 people near the Big Island’s eastern edge.

Volcano rift map
This map shows the locations, mapped by USGS-HVO scientists, of the three eruptive fissures in the order that they occurred in the Leilani Estates Subdivision as of 8:00 a.m. HST today (May 4). The fissures are jetting copious amounts of sulfur dioxide gas, which should be avoided. Spatter is also being emitted, but lava flows are not extending far from the active fissures. The eruption remains dynamic, which means that changes could occur with little notice. (Source: USGS)

Concerns about sulfur dioxide

The volcanic eruption has released potentially dangerous sulfur dioxide in the evacuation area according to fire department personnel. Exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide could be life-threatening, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Breathing large amounts of sulfur dioxide could result in burning of the nose and throat and breathing difficulties.

Senior citizens, the young and people with respiratory issues have extra incentive to leave the evacuation zone, because they are especially vulnerable to the gas, the state’s Emergency Management Agency said.


Since Monday, hundreds of earthquakes have been recorded in the area. Most of these earthquakes have been reported around 2.0 magnitude. The series of quakes came after a collapse of a crater floor of Puu Oo.

Since the Puu Oo collapse, about 250 earthquakes were reported in the area into Tuesday evening, according to a Hawaiian Volcano Observatory status report.

The tremors have jarred residents, who’ve been reporting nearly constant ground vibrations. They have also reported cracks in roads.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude of the most severe quake ahead of the eruption was 5.0.

Earthquake mapSources: CNN, U.S. Geological Survey, Hawaii Emergency Management