More than 1,500 living in the Puna district on the big island of Hawaii have been ordered to evacuate on Thursday after “unbelievable colored” lava began to seep through cracks on highways.
"Yesterday the roads started cracking about 150 yards from our house, the road was cracking in three places," Leilani Estates Maija Stenback told BBC News. "That's when it started getting real. We had an idea of where the lava was travelling under the ground, we just didn't know where and when it would erupt.”
The "it" Stenback was referring to is the Kilauea volcano. The active volcano erupted six hours after a magnitude-5.0 earthquake rocked the island, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
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Stenback and her family heeded the warning and evacuated their home. A good idea, considering that volcano lava is hot — really, really, really hot.
How hot is volcano lava?
Let’s put it this way: According to the United States Geological Survey, "cool" volcano lava flows out at 570-degrees Fahrenheit. That’s still cooler than typical fire — 1,100 degrees — but regular lava flows at a much higher temperature.
"Last time the flow nearly took out our school. We're afraid we might not be able to graduate because we can't get to school or hand in work," student Natalie Myers told the BBC.
Once it gets flowing, the USGS says that Kilauea magma can reach an astounding 2,120 degrees. Even the slow-flowing lava that spits from volcanoes can reach around 1,100 degrees.
Other health problems caused by volcanoes
It goes without saying that flowing volcano lava is hot enough to burn through everything in its path — including homes and commercial buildings. That’s frightening enough on its own, but volcanoes also affect the air.
"Because of the sulphur in the air, it's hard to breathe, it's disgusting," Myers told the BBC. "My friend has breathing problems and needs to evacuate but she can't leave her house."
A large amount of harmful chemicals are found in volcano ash, according to information published by Carleton College. These include sulfates (like the sulfur dioxide), hydrochloric acid and hydrofluoric acid.
In the short term, exposure to the ash can cause respiratory problems (runny nose, sore throat, coughing, wheezing) and eye problems, like itchy eyes, abrasions and corneal tearing. Long-term exposure can cause silicosis, a lung-scarring disease that comes from prolonged exposure to free silica particles.
Despite the risks, some people are refusing to abandon their homes.
"If Pele comes, Pele comes," Curt Redman of Puna told news station KHNL, referring to the Hawaiian fire goddess. The legend says she lives on the summit of Kilauea.
"Now we're kind of crossing our fingers to see what Pele might do next."