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Evacuations underway amid vigorous eruptions threatening homes, roads

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PAHOA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hundreds of residents are evacuating from lower Puna as advancing flows threaten homes and a key access point.

In Leilani Estates, residents in a mandatory evacuation zone had until noon to get out or face arrest or fines. The evacuation order covers the area from Pomaikai Street to Malama Street, where huge fountains of lava, ongoing flows and toxic emissions are making conditions unsafe.

Meanwhile, residents in Vacationland, Kapoho Beach Lots and in areas near Highway 137 were being urged to get out by 2 p.m. A fast-advancing flow from fissure no. 8 is threatening to cover Government Beach Road near Four Corners as early as 4 p.m.

About 9 a.m., the flow front was about half a mile from Four Corners, where highways 132 and 137 intersect.

Beach Road is the only remaining access point out of Kapoho and authorities warn that those who don't leave "risk the  possibility of being isolated."

Meanwhile, officials are warning they'll start enforcing a mandatory evacuation zone in Leilani Estates on Friday afternoon.

In public messages, Hawaii County has said those remaining in the zone, which covers about half of the subdivision, "do so at their own risk with the knowledge that emergency responders may not respond" if they need help.

The county said those who flout the order could also be liable for costs associated with any rescue operations.

Gov. David Ige told reporters Friday that the new instructions to residents were about keeping them safe.

"We are balancing the interests and understanding that for many of the residents there, everything they own is in that property," Ige said.

"But the flip of that, clearly, the fissures opening right in the heart of Leilani Estates really creates and introduces another hazard to that community. The sulfur dioxide gas, which is invisible but can be deadly, really forces us to order mandatory evacuations in order to keep those residents safe."

Evacuees say they understand the reasons behind the mandatory evacuation, and say they appreciate the county's work in recent weeks to allow them to get into the subdivision during the day to cart out belongings and pets. 

"I do think that is appropriate," said Wendy Klepps, whose house is near the 200-foot geyser of lava shooting out of fissure no. 8.

"Most of us here in Leilani, we've left. We know the danger. We're respecting what we were told to do from the beginning and we've vacated what we can as we can. We're just being responsible."