Two new explosions rock Hawaii’s Kilauea summit, more shelters in progress

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Paradise Helicopters/ABC News(HONOLULU, HI.) -- Two new steam explosions rocked the summit of the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island Monday morning, the latest measuring a preliminary magnitude of 5.4 and producing a minor ash fall affecting some commuters.

These explosions have been happening frequently for weeks now, U.S. Geological Survey volcanologist Rick Hazlett told ABC News, but seismic activity at Kilauea’s summit is increasing.

"This is not stopping. It’s going on historically in excess of what we’ve seen before and there’s a lot of road damage from miles away," Hazlett said, referring to cracks in the road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park that have opened up from thousands of earthquakes over the past month.

That seismic activity causes the rim and walls of the summit crater Halema?uma?u to expand, sending rocks inside, which then create the large ash and steam explosions.

More than twenty miles away from the summit, where lava vents have opened up in neighborhoods along the lower East Rift Zone, vigorous eruptions continue sending lava and toxic fumes into the air. Over the past 39 days, more than twenty fissures opened up, but the USGS said many are now inactive.

Fissure 8, however, continues to spew lava up to 180 feet in the air. This lava is then fed into a flow that goes out to the ocean at Kapoho, creating a large plume of lava haze, or "laze."

The lava flow has spread more than four-billion cubic feet of lava, according to USGS, which is enough to fill 45,400 Olympic-sized pools, and cover Manhattan Island 6.5 feet deep.

The flow now covers more than 9 square miles and has extended a portion of the coastline by a mile after swallowing Kapoho Bay.

More than 600 homes are estimated to have been destroyed by the lava so far, according to Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim.

Although scientists can use past eruptions as a guide to predict and monitor new eruptions, according to Hazlett, they are waiting.

"We’re in a holding pattern," he said. "It’s just watching and waiting on a system that has a mind of its own."

"We don’t see the end clearly in sight," Hazlett added.

What’s next for evacuees?

Meanwhile, volunteers, including engineers with the National Guard, are working to get new micro-dwellings built for evacuees, many of which have been living at shelters for more than a month now.

Hawaii State Representative Joy San Buenaventura told ABC News the units are meant to be temporary accommodations for those left homeless by the scorching lava flows, while they look for permanent housing. The dwellings do not have bathrooms or other utilities, but there will be a separate building for a common kitchen, showers and restrooms.

SanBuenaventura says that it could be months before evacuees find permanent housing.

"At least during fires or hurricanes there's land you can go back to," she said. "You can't rebuild on these lava zones. If lava has taken over your property, you can't rebuild on that."

With hurricane season fast approaching, getting these units up quickly is a priority.

"This provides security, this provides safety during hurricane season, this provides privacy and at least a sense of well-being that is absent when you are in a communal setting," San Buenaventura says.

The first few families are slated to move into the dwellings on June 15, according to ABC affiliate KITV in Honolulu.

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