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New evacuations ordered on Hawaii’s Big Island as lava flows from volcano threaten roads, destroy homes

(YouTube/Screenshot)

A new round of mandatory evacuations in the Big Island neighborhood hardest hit by lava eruptions and flows was set to go into effect Friday as authorities warned that anyone who stays behind could be held liable for rescue costs if they get trapped and call for help.

The latest order covers a large section of the Leilani Estates neighborhood, where at least 40 homes have already been destroyed. The lava has also burned at least 400 power poles, Hawaii Electric Light Co. reported, cutting power to most of the area.

Scientists say the lava leaking from the Kilauea volcano is fountaining up to 250 feet in the air and flowing at much higher-than-normal temperatures. It’s also approaching a major intersection of two roads used to access the area, potentially blocking both planned escape routes. Contractors are bulldozing an alternative escape route through the adjacent Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“Persons remaining in the mandatory evacuation area … do so at their own risk with the knowledge that emergency responders may not respond,” Mayor Harry Kim ordered late Thursday. “Persons in violation of this order are subject to arrest and will be liable for any costs associated with rescue operations in the mandatory evacuation area. Refusing to evacuate may put you, your family and first responders in danger.”

The new evacuation order takes effect shortly after noon local time Friday (6 p.m. ET). Authorities ordered the neighborhood evacuated May 3, but after the initial closure, residents were allowed to visit homes during the daylight hours.

As the eruption continued, an increasing number of people have remained behind each night, including journalists who have rented houses so they can legally remain within the evacuation area. The new evacuation order encourages everyone to leave and not return until authorities deem it safe. An increasing number of lava tourists and freelance photographers are also illegally trying to access the area, irritating police and National Guard members operating roadblocks.

Earlier this week, a New York couple viewing the lava was cited for loitering and refusing to evacuate after they were caught inside the evacuation area, which they reached by hiking, police said. Because the mayor has declared an emergency, anyone caught trespassing or looting faces heightened fines or jail time if convicted.

Authorities say the flowing lava, along with the fires it causes and poison gases it emits, pose a major danger to anyone but trained professionals. Federal scientists are closely monitoring the flows, which generally travel downhill, but are also pooling, building their own channels and popping up unexpectedly from underground.

Kilauea has been erupting since 1983 with only occasional pauses of quiet activity, and has long been a tourist attraction as visitors explore the national park or watch small amounts of lava ooze out on land far from any homes.

While the lava flows have drawn international attention, they are affecting only a small portion of the Big Island, and tourism officials say there’s no reason for visitors to stay away.

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© 2018 USA Today

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