Maui News

Kīlauea Three Years Later: Learning From the Past, Preparing for the Future

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Image courtesy of Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency.

Three years ago, the dynamic geology of the Big Island of Hawaiʻi provided a stark and solemn reminder of its power. A series of events, beginning with the April 30 collapse of the Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater floor on the Eastern Rift Zone of the Kīlauea Volcano, forever changed the landscape of the island and the lives of the people who call it home.

The Puʻu ʻŌʻō collapse marked what scientists at the United States Geological Survey have since determined was the end of a 35-year eruption that began in 1983.

According to information from the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park website, 48-hours later, the lava lake at the Kīlauea summit dramatically dropped as magma started draining underground toward the middle and Lower East Rift Zone. This movement was accompanied by a series of earthquakes.

On May 3, 2018, the first fissure opened up in a residential subdivision known as Leilani Estates, and the next day the island experienced a magnitude 6.9 earthquake as magma continued moving toward the Lower East Rift Zone. Over the course of four months the area experienced thousands of earthquakes. At the summit, there were over 60 earthquakes rated a magnitude 5.0 or more.

The landscape changed and damage to property was extensive.


The National Park website said the following:

“Over the next two months, lava covered 13.7 square miles of land, several dozens of feet deep in places. The flows in the Lower East Rift Zone destroyed 700 homes, displaced over 2,000 people, covered 30 miles of road and added an astounding 875 acres of new land to the island.”

Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes to Kīlauea was the massive collapse of the summit caldera. As a result of the activity during the 2018 ereuption, Halemaʻumaʻu crater – a pit crater within the larger Kīlauea caldera – grew in depth from 280 feet to 1,600 feet.

Though the eruption effectively subsided in Sept. 2018, Kīlauea remains one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

How HI-EMA Supported Those Impacts and What Has Been Learned


The 2018 eruption forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and many others were affected by hazardous health conditions from dangerous gas and other emissions, including respiratory issues due to volcanic smog or “vog.”

From the onset of the eruption and continuing today, the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency, has worked in coordination with city, federal and nonprofit partners, as well as experts in the scientific community to respond to and recover from the incident. There are several major Federal Emergency Management Agency grant programs that HI-EMA is currently supporting for this incident including the Public Assistance Program and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Some of the coordinated projects include a $3.7 million FEMA disaster recovery grant to help rebuild parks damaged or destroyed by the eruption and additional funding for a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa-led research project on Vog Measurement and Prediction.

HI-EMA assisted in the preparation of the HMGP to secure FEMA funding for the VMAP research project which helps atmospheric scientists and health officials improve their ability to forecast vog and alert the public.

In total, the reimbursement amount that FEMA has obligated for this incident – including for destroyed roads and waterlines – is nearly $150 million.


“Because lava is dynamic and unpredictable, the State of Hawai`i worked closely with the County of Hawaiʻi and many federal agencies to keep the public safe. This incident pushed everyone to look for out-of-the-box solutions and we were so pleased our federal, state and county partners rose to the challenge,” said HI-EMA Administrator Luke Meyers.

More information about response and recovery efforts from the 2018 Kīlauea eruptions can be found online.

Some projects and recovery efforts are ongoing today.

“Although three years have passed, there are still many long-term recovery issues that need to be addressed,” said Meyers.

To that end, HI-EMA and partners continue recovery, mitigation and outreach to respond to and learn from 2018 as well as prepare for the next eruption.

Preparing for the Next Eruption

Today, scientists are continually conducting geologic investigations and real-time monitoring of volcanoes as they work to better forecast volcanic eruptions and answer important questions as to when an eruption will occur, how long it will last when it does occur and what can be expected as an eruption begins and unfolds.

While nature provides many indications that an eruption may occur – increased earthquake frequency and intensity, noticeable steaming and new or enlarged areas of hot ground among those listed on the USGS website – it can still be difficult to precisely predict an eruption. Recent geological activity around Kilauea and Mauna Loa are good reminders to know your hazards and be prepared.

Be Two Weeks Ready

Emergency preparedness begins at home, so it is important residents and visitors to be forward-thinking and prepare themselves and their families for when an eruption or other natural or human-caused incident may occur.

HI-EMA offers the following tips for emergency preparedness.

  • Have a two-week supply of nonperishable food.
  • Have a good water supply (1 gallon per person, per day).
  • Gather important supplies such as first aid, medications, important documents, a battery-operated or crank radio, batteries, flashlight, warm clothes and sturdy shoes, hygiene items, masks, hand sanitizer and items for pets and those who need additional care.
  • Have a safety and evacuation plan as well as a way to let your family know you are safe.
  • Create go-bags for each member of a household, for work and have a vehicle safety kit as well.

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