By Marco Garcia
PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) - A rising tide of lava turned a Hawaii street into a smoking volcanic wasteland on Friday, destroying at least eight homes as residents stood on the road and watched their houses burn.
The destructive fury of the erupting Kilauea volcano has been unleashed on the Big Island's Leilani Estates housing development, with the number of homes and other structures destroyed jumping to 82 from a previous count of 50 only a few days ago, according to David Mace, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Some 15,000 acres (6,070 hectares) of land - about half the size of Florida's Disney World resort - have been torched by lava since May 3, in what is likely to be the most destructive eruption of Kilauea in over a century, according to the County of Hawaii.
"There were eight houses taken on this road in 12 hours," said Ikaika Marzo in a Facebook video as he stood on Kaupuli street and showed a black, glass-like lava field where his cousin's house previously stood.
Where there were once houses and tropical back gardens in Leilani Estates, magma spews from 100-foot-high (30-meter-high) cinder cones and forms elevated ponds of molten rock that cascade over their banks to engulf the next street.
"It's this tide of lava that rises up and overflows itself on the edges and keeps rising and progressing forward," said U.S. Geological Survey geologist Wendy Stovall told journalists on a conference call.
Around 37 structures are "lava locked," meaning homes are inaccessible, and people who do not evacuate them may be hemmed in by 30-foot-high (9-meter-high) walls of lava.
Magma is draining underground from a sinking lava lake at Kilauea's 4,091-foot (1,247-meter) summit before flowing around 25 miles (40 km) east and bursting from giant cracks, with two flows reaching the ocean just over three miles (4.83 km) distant.
Stovall declined to comment on lava volume being emitted. Marzo said he was told by a USGS geologist there was much more to come from Kilauea.
"What has been coming out is just a small fraction of what was in the volcano," he said he was told.
Though lava destruction from the volcano is confined to a roughly 10-square-mile (26-sq-km) area, the eruption is hurting the island's tourist-driven economy as potential visitors fear ashfall or volcanic smog belching from Kilauea's summit.
A 4.4 magnitude earthquake at the volcano's summit on Friday prompted County of Hawaii Civil Defense to reassure the island's 200,000 residents that there was no risk of a tsunami.
Year-to date 2018 visitor numbers to the Connecticut-sized island are "trending a little bit lower" than 2017, with the cancellation of some port visits by cruise ships expected to have a $3 million impact, said Ross Birch, head of the island's tourism board on a conference call.
(Additional reporting by Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu; Writing and additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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Updated Date: May 26, 2018 07:05 AM