Mandatory evacuation ordered as Hawaii eruption hits 4-week mark

HONOLULU, May 31 (Reuters) - The Hawaii community hardest hit by the Kilauea Volcano was ordered sealed off under a strict new mandatory evacuation on Thursday as the eruption marked its fourth week with no end in sight.

The Big Island's mayor, Harry Kim, declared a roughly 17-block swath of the lava-stricken Leilani Estates subdivision off-limits indefinitely and gave any residents remaining there 24 hours to leave or face possible arrest.

The mandatory evacuation zone lies within a slightly larger area that was already under a voluntary evacuation and curfew.

The latest order was announced a day after police arrested a 62-year-old Leilani Estates resident who fired a handgun over the head of a younger man from the same community, apparently believing his neighbor was an intruder or looter.

The confrontation on Tuesday was recorded on cell phone video that later went viral.

More: Hawaiians impacted by the Kilauea volcano eruptions

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Hawaiians impacted by the Kilauea volcano eruptions
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Hawaiians impacted by the Kilauea volcano eruptions
Carolyn McNamara, 70, hugs her neighbor Paul Campbell, 68, at an evacuation center in Pahoa after moving out of their homes in the Puna community of Leilani Estates after the Kilauea Volcano, one of five on the island, erupted on Thursday after a series of earthquakes over the last couple of days, in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Residents of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions, who were evacuated from their homes due to eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano, pick up supplies at a community donation center on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Piper Lynn, 37, center, eats a meal at a community donation center with her children, Kiera, 13, and Zachary, 2, from left, and her husband, Matthew Herrera, after the family was evacuated from their home due to eruptions of the nearby Kilauea Volcano on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Piper Lynn, 37, center, picks up a meal at a community donation center with her children, Jacob, 15, Zachary, 2, and Kiera, 13, from left, after the family was evacuated from their home due to eruptions of the nearby Kilauea Volcano on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Residents of the Leilani Estates subdivision pass a checkpoint while driving to their homes to pick up belongings after being evacuated due to eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Brandi Barnard, 30, right, a resident of the Leilani Estates subdivision who was evacuated from her home due to eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano, picks up clothing for her children at a community donation center on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Red Cross volunteer Marilani Marciel, 59, watches donations arrive at an evacuation center in Pahoa for residents of the Puna communities of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens who were forced to leave their homes after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Ron McLain, 58, watches as his husband, Michael Berry, 68, offers water to their dog at an evacuation center in Pahoa after moving out of their home in the Puna community of Leilani Estates after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018.
Audrey Meyer, 49, sits with her daughters, Nicole, 7, left, and Sarah, at an evacuation center in Pahoa after moving out of their home in the Puna community of Leilani Estates after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday after a series of earthquakes over the last couple of days, in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Police check the identity of returning evacuees to Leilani Estates near the town of Pahoa on Hawaii's Big Island on May 7, 2018, after the residents were forced to evacuate following recent earthquakes and concern over toxic sulphur dioxide. - More than two dozen homes have been destroyed and dozens more are threatened by red-hot lava seeping from the Kilauea volcano, the most active in Hawaii, civil defense officials said. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
A fireman walks past a sign leading to the entrance of Leilani Estates where evacuees have been returning to gather their belongings near the town of Pahoa on Hawaii's Big Island on May 7, 2018, after the residents were forced to evacuate following recent earthquakes and concern over toxic sulphur dioxide. - More than two dozen homes have been destroyed and dozens more are threatened by red-hot lava seeping from the Kilauea volcano, the most active in Hawaii, civil defense officials said. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 06: Parishioners pray during Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Church on Hawaii's Big Island on May 6, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. One parishioner from the church had their home destroyed by the recent lava flows in the area. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur dioxide gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. Officials have confirmed 26 homes have now been destroyed by lava in nearby Leilani Estates. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 06: Evacuees Stacy Welch (L) and her daughter Maddy (C) check a map provided by a volunteer showing lava destruction in their Leilani Estates neighborhood on Hawaii's Big Island on May 6, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur dioxide gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. Officials have confirmed 26 homes have now been destroyed by lava in Leilani Estates. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 06: Parishioners pray during Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Church on Hawaii's Big Island on May 6, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. One parishioner from the church had their home destroyed by the recent lava flows in the area. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur dioxide gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. Officials have confirmed 26 homes have now been destroyed by lava in nearby Leilani Estates. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 06: Residents jam a street after being allowed to briefly return home to check on belongings and pets in an evacuation zone near volcanic activity on Hawaii's Big Island on May 6, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. Officials have confirmed 26 homes have now been destroyed by lava in Leilani Estates. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Evacuees fill out forms before being allowed to return to their Leilani Estates homes to gather belongings on May 6, 2018, near Pahoa, Hawaii. - The Kilauea Volcano, the most active in Hawaii, was highly unstable on May 6, 2018, as lava spouted into the air and fissures emitted deadly gases -- hazards that have forced thousands of people to evacuate. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
A cyclist offers the Shaka sign, also known as 'Hang Loose' while riding past a plume of volcanis smoke in the distance over the area of Leilani Estates near the town of Pahoa on May 6, 2018, as authorities allowed evacuees to return to gather belongings and head back out on Hawaii's Big Island. - The Kilauea Volcano, the most active in Hawaii, was highly unstable on May 6, 2018, as lava spouted into the air and fissures emitted deadly gases -- hazards that have forced thousands of people to evacuate. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 05: Volunteers check a phone while setting up a tent to distribute goods to evacuees beside a roadblock near volcanic activity on Hawaii's Big Island on May 5, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. Many local residents are monitoring their phones for information. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 05: Evacuee Taylor Burns checks her phone in the emergency shelter where she is staying at the Pahoa Community Center on Hawaii's Big Island on May 5, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 05: Evacuees (L to R) Stacy Welch, Taylor Burns and Maddy Welch gather with their pet goose and dog outside the emergency shelter where they are staying at the Pahoa Community Center on Hawaii's Big Island on May 5, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. The three said they fled their home in vehicles in the early morning along with their pets after they saw lava approaching in the distance. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Dr. Tim Richards, a longtime veterinarian on the island and County Councilman checks on evacuee Andrew Linne's dog Scotty at the Pahoa Community Center in Pahoa on Hawaii's Big Island, May 5, 2018. - A magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook Hawaii's Big Island on May 4, prompting fresh eruptions from a volcano that has been spewing lava near residential areas, forcing hundreds of people to flee. The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at 12:32 pm (2232 GMT) and was centered on the south flank of the Kilauea Volcano. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Fred Lord, a resident of Black Sands near the Leilani Estates, relaxes at the Pahoa Community Center May 5, 2018 after after deciding to self-evacuate earlier in the day due to the nauseous fumes of sulphur at his residence. - A magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook Hawaii's Big Island on May 4, prompting fresh eruptions from a volcano that has been spewing lava near residential areas, forcing hundreds of people to flee. The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at 12:32 pm (2232 GMT) and was centered on the south flank of the Kilauea Volcano. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
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But the mandatory evacuation was "decided prior to that incident," said David Mace, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency currently assigned to the Hawaii County Civil Defense authority.

Civil defense officials have previously said about 2,000 residents in and around Leilani Estates were displaced at the outset of the current eruption, which began on May 3.

But the total number of evacuees was estimated to have risen to about 2,500 after authorities ushered residents from the nearby Kapoho area as a precaution on Wednesday, as a lava flow threatened to cut off a key access road.

At least 75 homes -- most of them in Leilani Estates -- have been devoured by streams of red-hot molten rock creeping from about two dozen large volcanic vents, or fissures, that have opened in the ground since Kilauea rumbled back to life four weeks ago. Lava flows also have knocked out power and telephone lines in the region, disrupting communications.

Besides spouting fountains of lava around the clock, the fissures have released high levels of toxic sulfur dioxide gas on a near constant basis, posing an ongoing health hazard. Meanwhile, the main summit crater has periodically erupted in clouds of volcanic ash that create breathing difficulties and other problems for residents living downwind.

The heightened volcanic activity has been accompanied by frequent earthquakes, as magma -- the term for lava before it reaches the surface -- pushes its way up from deep inside the earth and exerts tremendous force underground.

After a month of continual eruptions at Kilauea's summit and along its eastern flank, geologists say they have no idea how much longer it will last.

SEE ALSO: Lava covers potentially explosive well at Hawaii geothermal plant

"There's no sign we're getting that anything is going to slow down at the moment," Wendy STOVL, a vulcanologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. "We don't see any changes occurring."

The island's mayor on Wednesday renewed an emergency proclamation for 60 more days, allowing construction of temporary shelters and other relief projects to proceed on an expedited basis, without reviews and permits normally required.

The month-old eruption of Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, followed an eruption cycle that had continued almost nonstop for 35 years.

Stovall said geologists now believe the latest upheaval should be classified as a separate volcanic event, though an official determination has yet to be made. (Reporting by Jolyn Rosa; Additonal reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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