Hawaii’s Big Island was hit with a magnitude 6.9 earthquake on Friday, as multiple eruptions and tremors sent residents fleeing for safety from lava flows and toxic gas spewing from the Kilauea volcano.
Friday’s earthquake was the biggest in the state in 43 years and came after a series of hundreds of quakes earlier in the week, including one magnitude 5.4 earthquake, according to The Associated Press.
As multiple vents opened up in a residential neighborhood, houses were burned by molten rock and lava while island officials warned of dangerous amounts of sulfuric gas, forcing parks and schools to close.
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokeswoman Janet Babb explained that the earthquakes were the result of the movements in the Kilauea volcano due to shifting magma.
“The magma moving down the rift zones, it causes stress on the south flank of the volcano,” Babb said. “We’re just getting a series of earthquakes.”
More than 1,700 people on the southern side of the Big Island have been ordered to evacuate as lava flows and sulfuric gas threatened communities near the volcano.
Julie Woolsey, a Hawaii resident who fled her home late Thursday, said she became worried after volcanic vents — holes in the ground from which lava pours out — opened up in her neighborhood.
“We knew we were building on an active volcano,” Woolsey told the AP, but she stressed that the volcano is unpredictable and said the danger didn’t seem close until lava reached a few thousand feet from her home.
“You can’t really predict what Pele is going to do,” she said, referring to the Hawaiian volcano goddess. “It’s hard to keep up. We’re hoping our house doesn’t burn down.”
State Sen. Russell Ruderman explained that it isn’t the first time residents have experienced earthquakes and threats from active volcanos, but he stressed that the combination of dangers posed a scary situation for many inhabitants.
“We’re all rattled right now,” he said. “It’s one thing after another. It’s feeling kind of stressful out here.”