Eruptions and fissures near the Kilauea Volcano produced conditions resulting in governmental alerts, school closures and school bus route modifications on the Big Island.
The U.S. Geologic Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said that a 5.0 earthquake on May 3 opened three fissures on the lower East Rift Zone of the volcano, which is located near the eastern edge of the island of Hawaii. By the next day, the volcano was erupting and spewing lava, steam, rocks, ash and sulfur dioxide gas. More earthquakes followed, including a 6.9 on May 5, the strongest in the state since 1975.
As of Wednesday evening, more fissures had opened (a total of 21 now, according to CNN’s website), and the chances of seismic activity remained elevated, but the Observatory said that the lava flow had slowed. However, a Civil Defense Message by the County of Hawaii cautioned residents to avoid exposure to ash and sulfur dioxide, as well as use caution while driving vehicles.
The Hawaiian State Department of Education said it was monitoring the situation, and all of its public schools and school buses would proceed on normal schedules until further notice. Students who missed school due to evacuations would be excused, it stated.
“All HIDOE public schools in the East Hawaii area have been inspected for earthquake damage and are safe for students’ return on Monday,” Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said on May 6. “All schools and staff will remain prepared for the unexpected, and initiate established earthquake, shelter-in-place and evacuation safety procedures, should the need arise.”
Kua O Ka Lā New Century Public Charter School was closed beginning May 3, “due to seismic activity.” On May 7, school officials said they are working on lining-up another location to hold classes, and reworking school bus routes. Calls were made to confirm each family’s location and better aid in the routing process. New class locations were announced on Monday.
The Volcano School of Arts & Sciences was closed Tuesday and Wednesday, due to a wind change causing ash fall in the area, but stated on its website that it anticipated being open Thursday, with both campus and remote learning options. The public charter school has 159 students in grades K-8.
“Safety protocols are in place for such emergencies as earthquakes, tsunamis, and poor air quality, and our students and staff practice for them diligently each year,” said Kim Williamson, principal for Pahoa High & Intermediate School. She added that counselors were available for students, parents and staff.
“In these trying times, we here at PHIS are banding together, supporting the students and each other,” she said.
On May 11, a Presidential Disaster Declaration requested by Gov. David Ige for Hawaii was granted, making federal funds available for public facilities, such as roads, schools and parks that are damaged by volcanic activity.