Things got incredibly exciting in Hawaii over the last week. Kilauea's East Rift Zone showed an abrupt uptick in seismic activity on Monday afternoon, showing that magma was on the move. No one knew if it would actually erupt; magma often goes traveling without showing up on the surface, and this was in an area that hadn't seen activity in the past. But everyone was on high alert – especially when cracks began to appear in one of the Big Island's newest subdivisions.

Eventually, there was so much magma in the system, that Pu'u 'Ō'ō's crater floor collapsed on Monday (April 30). In the past, excess magma has either pierced through the crust to reach the surface at or near Pu'u 'Ō'ō, Babb said. But this time, the magma moved elsewhere — about 10 miles (16 kilometers) southeast of the east rift zone. It moved so far, it's now underneath the Puna District, one of the fastest-growing residential areas on the Big Island.

This roving magma had created several small ground cracks on roads around Leilani Estates, a residential subdivision, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported. However, no steam or heat is coming out of the cracks. Rather, it appears that the intruding magma deformed the ground, which caused the cracks.

Seismicity calmed on Thursday, but one fairly sizeable earthquake caused a spectacular sight mid-morning:

Image shows a view of a plume of pinkish ash spewing into blue skies, with green forests in the foreground.
Ash plume at Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō, Kilauea, on May 3rd, 2018. Credit: USGS

At 10:30 HST, ground shaking from a preliminary magnitude-5.0 earthquake south of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō caused rockfalls and possibly additional collapse into the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō crater on Kīlauea Volcano's East Rift Zone. A short-lived plume of ash produced by this event lofted skyward and dissipated as it drifted southwest from Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō.

But with earthquake activity decreasing, and no steam or heat escaping from the cracks, officials hoped the magma wouldn't find its way to the surface of the subdivision. Unfortunately for residents, a brief calm after an earthquake swarm sometimes is just the momentary quiet before the show begins. Just under seven hours after the plume appeared at Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō, Leilani Estates became the newest Hawaiian neighborhood to host Kilauea's spectacular lava flows:

An eruption has commenced in the Leilani Estates subdivision in the lower East Rift Zone of Kilauea Volcano. Shortly before 5 pm, lava was confirmed at the surface in the eastern end of the subdivision. Hawaii County Civil Defense is on scene and coordinating needed response including evacuation of a portion of the Leilani subdivision.


New ground cracks were reported in Leilani Estates late this afternoon. White, hot vapor and blue fume emanated from an area of cracking in the eastern part of the subdivision. Spatter began erupting shortly before 5 pm.

HVO and the County of Hawaii are on the ground and conducting overflights to further identify characterize activity and identify the direction of flowing lava.

This was a dramatic but restrained opening act:

The intrusion of molten rock into the lower East Rift Zone of Kilauea Volcano reached the surface in the late afternoon on May 3 in a part of Leilani Estates. A fissure about 150 m (492 ft) long erupted mostly spatter and intermittent bubble bursts for about 2 hours. Lava did not travel more than a few m (yards) from the fissure.

Bubble bursts happen when steam or gas gets trapped within lava, and it's pretty spectacular stuff to see. This eruption may not be producing fountains of lava many hundreds of feet in the air yet, but it's been vigorous.

News reports have captured the reactions of residents as they fled the eruption. Most of them understand that their lives here were temporary; you don't build in a volcanic rift zone without expecting that one day, probably soon, your number is going to get called by the volcano.

If you have a drone when that day comes, at least you might be able to get some breath-stopping video out of the drama:

But if you're nearby, please don't rush to the danger zone.

"The best thing they can do right now is stay out of the area. It's not a stable situation at all," Talmadge Magno of Big Island's Civil Defense said. "This is not over, it could escalate at any time. We don't know how this is going to go."

This is a fast-developing situation, and everything could change for the dramatic in a moment. You can get frequent updates at the USGS Volcano Hazards Program website, and through the USGS Facebook page. Stay safe, everyone!