More than four days after the first fissures opened up in the ground surrounding Hawaii's Mt. Kilauea, the volcano's destructive eruptions continued on Monday, destroying more buildings in the island's tony Leilani Estates neighborhood, CNN reported.
Lava and hazardous gases are bubbling up through the cracks in the volcano's East Rift Zone, a situation that has been exacerbated by a series of powerful Earthquakes that rocked the area late last week.
High levels of dangerous sulfur dioxide has been released into the air, forcing the government to issue a warning to residents living downwind from the volcano. Already, nearly 2,000 residents of the surrounding area have fled or been evacuated. They include residents of Leilani estates and the nearby Lanipuna Gardens.
But while the lava has caught the attention of photographers who've snapped thousands of pictures of the glowing red substance devouring homes, the Washington Post reports that an unseen danger has been threatening visitors and residents alike.
They're calling it "vog" - short for volcanic smog. Though the smog isn't a killer, it has made tens of thousands of Hawaiians during previous eruptions, and could make thousands more ill this time around.
Unfavorable winds could spread far from the volcano on the Big Island to affect people as far away as Oahu, 200 miles to the northwest. Similar patterns emerged in 2008 and 2016.
Vog, which mainly consists of water vapor, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, can appear as “hazy air pollution.” It can also contain several other compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen fluoride and carbon monoxide, all of which are harmful to people, according to the Geological Service. However, of the three primary gases, sulfur dioxide, which has an acrid smell reminiscent of fireworks or a burning match, is the “chief gas hazard in Hawaii,” the service reported.
Vog is nothing new to people living on the Big Island or the surrounding islands. The summit of Kilauea has been emitting high levels of sulfur dioxide for the past 10 years, Babb said.
In past years when vog has plagued the islands, many reported suffering from debilitating symptoms.
Experts say vog exposure symptoms include headache, soar throat and lethargy.
The user’s symptoms included a headache, a raw swollen sore throat and lethargy. The government is also warning that the smog can't be totally filtered out with store-bought gas masks - especially in high concentrations.
"We are planning on going to VNP [Hawaii Volcanoes National Park] today and if I had an oxygen tank I’d wear it!" the user wrote. "My question is will this get any better or should we just take our losses and leave?"
One day later, the same user provided a status update: “We are leaving today for Oahu. Hopefully I can recover enough to redeem the rest of our vacation. This has indeed been brutal!”
While the smog is threatening a broader swath of the island's territory, the lava continues to cause the bulk of the destruction.
Longtime residents have been shocked by the destruction.
"It's nothing that I've ever experienced on a personal level ever before," said Jessica Ferracane, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Their chief concern now is the earthquakes that have occurred frequently after the eruptions.
"That's the big concern for everybody on the island," Ferracane said Monday. "The earthquakes continued through the night."
To help accommodate evacuees with nowhere to turn, the American Red Cross has opened shelters at the Pahoa and Keaau community centers.
Officials are expected to provide an update on the violent volcanic eruption in Hawaii shortly.
Since the eruptions began on Thursday, the volcano has destroyed more than 35 buildings and nearly two dozen homes. As we pointed out earlier, in one video shared on social media, lava can be seen destroying a car.
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said Sunday that the lava flow from the Kilauea volcano has traveled more than half a mile, and aftershocks continue to shake the region, as NPR pointed out.
Kilauea has been in a continuous state of eruption since the early 1980s, according to NPR. But the carnage being caused by this latest eruption is the result of a dramatic shift in the pattern of magma flows. In a historical incident that doesn't bode well for the current eruption, back in 1955, a Kilauea eruption lasted 88 days.
The destruction continues in Leilani Estates. The amazing roar is indescribable, one of the most memorable days thus far in my life. An inch closer could have taken a turn for the worst. This spatter is going up at least a couple hundred feet! Hot winds with poisonous gases and the echo of Pele cannons through Leilani Estates, this is just the beginning of a pretty serious eruption. If the deflation at Halema’uma’u continues we will see more changes and chaos for the residents of Hawaii. #leilaniestates #fissureeruption #hawaiivolcanoes #kilauea #typicaldayoff #pohoiki #evacuate #madampele #unreal
According to Hawaii News, the number of open fissures expanded to 10 on Monday, though not all of them are actively spewing magma.
The fissures are scattered across the Puna subdivision on the island of Hawaii - also known as "the big island."
Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim told local media the county will house and feed evacuees for "as long as we need to."
So far, no deaths have been reported.