HONOLULU ― President Donald Trump on Friday declared the recent volcanic eruptions in Hawaii a major disaster, signaling federal agencies to assist with recovery efforts and allowing the state to access federal funding.
The declaration comes after a week of earthquakes, newly opened fissures and devastating lava flows have plagued neighborhoods in the Puna district of Hawaii’s Big Island. Gov. David Ige (D) requested the disaster declaration on Wednesday.
Kilauea, considered one of the world’s most active volcanoes, began erupting on May 3 after scientists observed an uptick in earthquakes around the volcano’s east rift zone. The initial eruptions were followed by two powerful earthquakes and the formation of even more explosive fissures.
At least 15 fissures have formed so far, spewing fountains of lava and emitting toxic gases into the air.
Lava has covered an estimated 117 acres of land, including a large portion of Leilani Estates, a subdivision of Puna. At least 36 structures have been destroyed in the lava, including 27 homes.
About 2,000 residents have been evacuated from the affected or threatened areas, according to an estimate by The Associated Press. The American Red Cross is operating shelters for evacuated residents while the county and Salvation Army are providing food and supplies. No deaths or injuries have been reported.
Activity on the volcano was relatively quiet on Thursday and Friday, though officials warned that levels of sulfur dioxide emitted from the fissures would rise as trade winds died down.
On Friday afternoon, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, part of the U.S. Geological Survey, warned that Kilauea’s Halemaumau crater, located in the summit, could have an “explosive eruption” and cause massive ash fallout.
Officials have observed a dramatic drop in the crater’s lava lake, which they say could lead to a steam-driven eruption that would produce ash plumes as high as 20,000 feet, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense.
The plume could reach 12 miles wide. Civil Defense officials warned residents to stay indoors with the window closed in case of a Halemaumau eruption.