Events That Took Place On Mount Kilauea

Topics: HawaiiVolcano


In order to really understand the events that took place on Mount Kilauea on May 3, 2018, we first should get to know the volcano and the background of the place the volcano resides, Hawaii. When I think of Hawaii, I think of paradise. Some of the most breathtaking scenery. It is interesting to think that without volcanic activity this beautiful chain of islands would be in existence as it is today. The chain of islands that make up Hawaii is a natural service function due to the volcanos that have been forming as a result of the Hawaiian hot spot that has been around for about seventy million years.

The islands are on the Pacific plate which has been slowly moving northwest.

The youngest island is known as the Big Island of Hawaii. Mt. Kilauea is a shield volcano made from basalt, due to the lava that has hardened to form the volcano over time. Due to the current geological location of the islands, since Mt.

Kilauea is on the island over the hotspot, it is one of the most active volcanoes in the entire world as it has been erupting over and over again since 1983. It did not stop erupting from the May 3rd eruption until September 4, 2018. It remains active to this day but has not since erupted. The alert level is currently normal, and the aviation color code is green meaning normal as well.

Physical Processes

This volcano has been erupting or active since 1983.  The series of events started when the Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater collapsed which ended the eruptions at that part of the volcano, and the Halema’uma’u summit of Kilauea had a lava lake that collapsed and the lava lake started plunging down which started a new eruption.

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Then came many earthquakes around the East Rift zone which was indicating that magma was flowing through there.  Volcanos do not always just erupt from one opening at the top, known as the summit like you normally see in cartoon movies. The eruption on May 3, 2018 was from new fissures along the East Rift zone. A fissure is simply a vent where lava can exit the volcano. Because the magma reached the surface, becoming lava, and was distributed from fissures, it flowed out as opposed to exploding out.

The flow versus explosion is also because of the nature of the lava at Mt. Kilauea; basaltic. Basalt is low silica and viscosity. This means it flows easily and quickly. There is a subdivision called Leilani Estates Subdivision. This was in the East Rift zone of the Kilauea volcano, which is called Puʻu crater and creating the area of fissures where magma can rise and leave the volcano. There was a total of 24 fissures that magma emerged from as lava, with Fissure 8 being the most prominent one, which emerged in the Leilani Estates subdivision.  Daily sulfur dioxide was released into the air with the eruptions from the fissures and when it mixed with water vapor it became vog which is like a fog of the gasses and things like volcanic ash which is very hazardous to humans. Kapoho Bay was no longer, as it was filled with lava and became a lava delta.

Conditions Indicating Elevated Risk

The possibility of an eruption was indicated due to the number of earthquakes that happened at Mt. Kilauea in the East rift zone, as well as the situation of the crater collapsing at the Puʻ vent prior to the eruptions. A geologist warned of this; however she could not say for certain that an eruption would occur and when it could happen. Even with all the uncertainty, this theory was enough of a warning to keep the loss of life lower than a surprise eruption.

Damage and Loss of Life

The loss of life was nonexistent for this rupture thanks to the warnings. Roughly 2,000 residents were evacuated from two housing developments. There were approximately 700 houses destroyed in the path of the lava along with other infrastructure. The eruptions lasted for months, and the documented injuries were 23 people injured from a lava bomb that landed on a tour boat.  Financially, this area was hit hard. The damage was estimated at approximately $300 million for the residents whose houses were destroyed, and other infrastructure was another $236 million or so in damages as well.  The lava had taken over approximately 13.7 square miles of the Big Island.

Links to Other Natural Hazards

Mount Kilauea did not just erupt out of nowhere, along with the crater collapsing and the lava lake draining, there were many earthquakes that happened along the east rift zone prior to the eruption, and there was a magnitude 6.9 earthquake with a depth of 5.8 km that happened after the eruption started on May 4, 2018, in Hawaii. The epicenter was near where the eruptions were happening. From the shake map, the “Did You Feel It”, the intensity of the earthquake was a VII, meaning that there was very strong shaking and moderate damage from this earthquake.  From May through August thousands of aftershock earthquakes happened at Kilauea as well for months.

Successful Mitigation

According to Hawai’i News Now, there was plenty of notice and warnings were given to prepare people for evacuation. The Hawaii County Civil Defense took action following the earthquakes prior to the eruption, and they encouraged people in specific hazardous zones to consider an evacuation plan and be prepared. The mayor himself acknowledged that the county, state, and federal agencies were also getting prepared and this included the communication about the evacuation plans with residents, as well as having police and road crews ready to get to work in the case of an eruption, as well as having shelters ready for residents.  With this information, I feel like mitigation was successful. From the given facts on the hazard zones, the Leilani Estates, which were built in 1960, was not built in the smartest idea considering that they were built in zone 1, which is the most hazardous zone for lava flow.

To me, allowing the subdivision to be built there was not successful mitigation, however, the Lava Hazard Flow map is a form of mitigation considering it serves as a knowledgeable source of recommendations of places to avoid building. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency website is very resourceful. The Get Ready Tab from the homepage has a Prepare Your Family section, Prepare Your Home, and a Prepare Your Business tab that assists with mitigation and preparedness for natural disasters such as volcanoes. It also has an Emergency Proclamation tab where people were kept informed of rules and regulations, as well as resources available for help to avoid the situation getting worse. Under the Sert Resources tab, there is a link to the Hazard Mitigation, where they list state and county mitigation plans.

Proposed Mitigation

It is imperative to find ways to lessen the consequences of natural hazards through proper mitigation. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has helped with the mitigation process for the volcanos in Hawaii. They have a website that explains the rift zones so that people who want to buy land are strategically buying land in less hazardous areas of the islands. This avoids situations like the Leilani Estates Subdivision that was destroyed. Right now, Hawai’i  is above the hotspot, and there are 5 volcanos that reside on the Big Island. There is a Lava-flow hazard map that maps out the 5 volcanoes and has divided up the map rates the zones on the island from the most hazardous to the least hazardous.

Although the map was created about 28 years ago, the hotspot is still over this part of the Islands, therefore the map is still accurate. There are also Hazard Mitigation Grants for state and counties for warning systems, safe rooms, and storm shelters, better development standards, etc.  The fact is that the volcano is active, so the best form of mitigation is just not building in the zones that are considered the most hazardous. The other form of mitigation that will be beneficial for everyone, especially those who continue to build in the hazardous zones is stronger infrastructures and trying to build higher, opposed to lower where the lava may flow since lava flows downhill with slopes.


This natural hazard was a beautiful disaster. Although it is calm right now, Kilauea is still active, and we have not seen the last of this volcano. I really enjoyed researching this chain of events and watching the videos of the eruption which were very intense. However, I am saddened by the amount of people who were displaced in the process. Kilauea lives on, and I will be keeping up with the updates of activity hereafter.


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Events That Took Place On Mount Kilauea. (2021, Dec 14). Retrieved from

Events That Took Place On Mount Kilauea
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