PAHOA - An ever-creeping wall of lava from Kilauea Volcano has engulfed two entire seaside housing tracts at the eastern tip of Hawaii's Big Island, government scientists reported on Wednesday, an area where civil defense officials said nearly 280 homes once stood.
The obliteration of the Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland subdivisions by a churning river of molten rock some 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.6 meters) tall brings to at least 350 the number of homes and other structures consumed by volcanic lava during the past month.
That latest toll of property losses from Kilauea's ongoing upheaval, which entered its 35th day on Wednesday, far surpasses the 215 structures destroyed by lava during all 35 years of the volcano's last eruption cycle, which began in 1983.
"Vacationland is gone, there's no evidence of any properties there at all," Wendy Stovall, a vulcanologist with the US Geological Survey (USGS), told reporters on a conference call. At the adjacent Kapoho Beach lots to the north, "just a few homes" are left standing, she added.
The two communities, comprising a quiet vacation spot once popular for its snorkeling and tide pools, sat at the edge of a small, shallow inlet called Kapoho Bay. Lava pouring into the ocean there has completely filled in the bay, extending nearly a mile (1.6 km) out from what had been the shoreline, USGS scientists said.
Plumes of white steam and hydrochloric acid fumes, a vaporous, corrosive mix formed from lava reacting with seawater as it enters the ocean, could be seen rising from a distance.