Lava sparks mandatory evacuations on Hawaii's Big Island

Image: Kilauea eruption
Image: Kilauea eruption   -  Copyright  Kevan Kamibayashi U.S. Geological Survey via AP
By Alex Johnson  with NBC News U.S. News

Steam and red lava emerge from a crack in the earth after a 5.0 earthquake.

The National Guard was activated and mandatory evacuations were under way Thursday on the Big Island of Hawaii as lava sluiced toward a community and menaced residents, authorities said.

Hawaii County civil defense officials ordered some of the 1,500 residents of Leilani Estates in the Puna district, on the eastern coast of the island, to get out late Thursday afternoon as steam and red lava began emerging from a crack in the earth in the Leilani neighborhood.

The eruption was reported at about 4:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. ET), about six hours after a magnitude-5.0 earthquake rattled the active Kilauea volcano following several days of smaller tremors, said the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, an agency of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The observatory said the lava was erupting from the volcano's lower East Rift Zone. NBC affiliate KHNL of Honolulu quoted residents as saying they could see lava spewing from cracks in roadways.

"I'm just hoping that it doesn't hurt anybody's home or hurt anyone, wherever Pele decides to pop out," Bailee Yamada of the Puna region told KHNL, invoking the name of the Hawaiian goddess who legend says lives on Kilauea's summit.

"If Pele comes, Pele comes," Curt Redman of Puna told the station. "Now we're kind of crossing our fingers to see what Pele might do next."

Gov. David Ige activated the Hawaii National Guard to assist with evacuations and security.

Ige said early Thursday evening that he had consulted with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim and that "the state is actively supporting the county's emergency response efforts."

Kilauea is the most active of the five volcanoes that form the island of Hawaii. Its most recent major eruption came in June 2014, disgorging lava flows that continued for months before they stopped just short of the town of Pahoa.

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