Trump declares Hawaii a disaster zone amid volcano eruption


With scientists warning that a steam-driven volcanic eruption could occur virtually without warning, the Hawaii National Guard is prepared to use ground convoys and even helicopters if necessary to pluck hundreds of residents from an isolated southeast corner of Hawaii's Big Island.

Kilauea erupted last week, sending 2,200-degree lava bursting through cracks into people's backyards in the Leilani Estates neighborhood that destroyed 36 structures, including 26 homes.

George Szigeti, CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority says Kilauea is being monitored constantly and says the Big Island is "immense" and there are large parts that are unaffected by the volcano.

The magma that has emerged so far has been relatively cool and slow-moving, believed to be left over from a similar event in 1955.

The subdivisions of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens are under mandatory evacuations, with residents describing fissures in the streets emitting steam or lava.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said in a press release earlier on Saturday that US President Donald Trump had approved a major disaster declaration for the state of Hawaii, providing state and local authorities with federal assistance in their recovery efforts in the areas affected by the ongoing eruption of the Kilauea volcano. "There may be little to no advance notice to evacuate, so take this time to prepare", the statement, published on the Hawaii County Civil Defense website, read.

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"We can move 226 people in one convoy. They should have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C", said Roann Okomura, a county official who is helping run one of the shelters set up for evacuees.

His wife refused to leave and stayed at the house to care for their dogs and chickens.

He went back for her on Thursday, fearing she and the animals would be dead.

"The gas fumes were just too much", he said, sitting at a baseball diamond with his dogs tied beside him.

Geologists warn that the Kilauea volcano could shoot out large boulders and ash out of its summit crater.

Residents of Kona on the west coast of the island have complained of volcanic smog, or vog, from the large amounts of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants spewing from Kilauea.