USA TODAY: Lava thrown hundreds of feet into the air; neighborhood reduced to ash

The massive lava flow oozes like fiery molasses, gobbling up everything in its path: homes, power poles, roads and trees. 

The boiling vents roar like ocean waves, throwing lava hundreds of feet into the air and igniting nearby vegetation.

Flames creep across what were once lush-green yards, leaving a smoldering trail of destruction. 

Trees and utility poles crash alarmingly to the ground dozens of feet from where the crackling flow surfaced. 

It is a scene dramatic — and dangerous — as a menacing new lava flow from the Kilauea volcano was on a collision course with homes in the Leilani neighborhood of Hawaii’s Big Island. 

The number of homes destroyed by Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano jumped to 26 Sunday as scientists reported lava spewing more than 200 feet (61 meters) into the air.

Some of the more than 1,700 people who evacuated prepared for the possibility they may not return for quite some time.”

“How can I walk away from this?” Greg Chunn said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Two new fissures appeared overnight, Hawaii County civil defense officials said, bringing the total to nine that opened in the neighborhood since Thursday.

Fire officials conducted another safety sweep of homes Sunday and watched helplessly as the lava engulfed a green single-story house. 

Anxious evacuees had hoped to return to their homes Sunday to check on their property and pets, but that appeared unlikely, given the new flow. 

Greg Webber, another resident who refused to evacuate, said he watched eight of his neighbors’ homes burn. 

“I won’t leave until it’s an inch from my house,” he said. “I’ve been through this a million times.”

Hundreds of small earthquakes rumbled through the area after Friday's magnitude-6.9 temblor hit — the largest earthquake to jolt Hawaii in more than 40 years. Magma moving through Kilauea set off the earthquakes, said geologists, who warned of aftershocks.

The U.S. Geological Survey said this event is far from over. More earthquakes and eruptions could cover the area with plumes of ash. The agency said it measured a jarring 477 earthquakes on the island over the past 24 hours, though many were small and probably not felt by residents. 

Kilauea is one of five volcanoes on the island, an attraction for the 8.9 million visitors the state sees annually. One of the world's most active volcanoes, it has been erupting since 1983.

One of the biggest attractions, Volcanoes National Park, is closed because of quake damage.

Airport officials monitored the runways in Hilo for earthquake damage, and jetliners coming from the mainland carried extra fuel, so they could divert to Honolulu if the volcano becomes more active.

More than 100 people stayed at a Red Cross shelter for a third night on Saturday, trying to keep their spirits up and wondering what their neighborhoods will look like when they’re allowed to return. 

Evacuee Ellie Garnett fretted about her four dogs and cat, Scarlet, whom she inadvertently left Thursday during the evacuation. Garnett said she took a carload of belongings to a storage unit but wasn’t allowed to make a second trip back to get her animals. Police and the National Guard block entrances to the area to prevent looting and gas exposure.

Garnett said she left the animals water but worried they might die from the poison gases that often accompany this kind of lava flow.

“They’re like my kids,” she said. “I should have taken them first.”
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