Lava spews from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano

Recent earthquakes as of 1:28 p.m. Tuesday

Hawaii County civil defence agency closed the area to visitors, ordered private tour companies to stop taking people into the region and said a mandatory evacuation is in effect for residents in Leilani Estates, from Luana Street to Mohala Street, stretching to the end of Leilani Avenue and Pohoiki Road.

"It was like if you put a bunch of rocks into a dryer and turned it on - a lot of earth and pressure and fire just moving around", he told AFP. You could just smell sulfur and burning trees and underbrush and stuff.

Since Monday, hundreds of earthquakes - majority around 2.0 magnitude - have been recorded in the area. The volcano is one of five on the island and erupted after a series of earthquakes during the week, including a 5.0 tremor earlier in the day.

Hawaii Fire Department officials warned that "extremely high levels of unsafe sulfur dioxide gas" was detected in the evacuation area. Several hundred to a thousand people live in subdivisions some 25 miles from Kilauea and received mandatory evacuation alerts on Thursday.

Officials are keeping watch on Kilauea, which is one of the world's most active volcanoes. "From 1983, when the Puu Oo eruption began ... residential areas were threatened and homes were lost", said Janet Babb of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

In 1924, one person was killed when Kilauea spewed ash and rocks into the sky.

High levels of unsafe SO2 gas detected in Hawaii Island evacuation areas. The government issued a state of emergency and called in the Hawaii National Guard to help with the evacuations.

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Areas downslope of the erupting vents were at risk of being covered by lava. A nearby school was closed due to the ongoing seismic activity and several roadways cracked under the strain of the constant temblors.

Kilauea's Puu Oo crater floor began to collapse Monday, triggering the earthquakes and pushing the lava into new underground chambers. "And so we are watching that very, very closely", Miklius said.

A magnitude 5.0 quake was recorded hours before the eruption began.

"There is quite a bit of magma in the system".

All 1,500 inhabitants of Pahoa, which is close to the eruption, were told to leave after steam and lava started pouring out of a crack.

National Park Service officials have shut down 16,000 acres of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as a precaution. And the fear is that lava will spew out of cracks created by those earthquakes and destroy nearby homes.

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