The sight of a volcanic tornado has been captured on camera over a fissure at the foot of an erupting volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island.
The rare phenomenon came as lava from Kilauea destroyed hundreds more homes overnight, overtaking two oceanfront communities advised to evacuate last week.
The “lavanado” – which does not have an official name among volcanologists – was captured by photographer Anthony Quintano during a tour by the Hawaii National Guard of an area known as Leilani Estates.
“The fountain was shooting 200 feet in the air and it was roughly a half a mile away from where we were standing,” he said of the tornado, which formed over Fissure 8.
A spinning vortex of air, the volcanic tornado is formed by the intense heat, which causes air to rise rapidly and stretch to form a column.
If it is within a boundary where surface winds are converging, this column can begin to rotate, creating a twister that can potentially fling bits of lava out of its interior.
The homes lost on Tuesday night were in addition to at least 117 destroyed and reported by county officials since lava began spilling from cracks in the ground that opened up last month.
"We don't have an estimate yet, but safe to say that hundreds of homes were lost in Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland last night," Janet Snyder, a spokeswoman for Hawaii County, said on Tuesday.
A morning overflight confirmed that lava completely filled Kapoho Bay, inundated most of Vacationland and covered all but the northern part of Kapoho Beach Lots, scientists with the US Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said.
Lava early on Tuesday claimed Big Island Mayor Harry Kim's second home in Vacationland, Ms Snyder said.
County managing director Wil Okabe said his own vacation home in Kapoho Beach Lots was also threatened. Mr Okabe described the area as a mix of vacation rentals and year-round residences.
"For us it's more of a vacation area, but for those who live there permanently, they're trying to figure out where they're going to be living," he said.
"He was very depressed," Mr Okabe said of how Mr Kim felt about losing his vacation home. Mr Kim and Mr Okabe live in Hilo, the county's seat, which is more than an hour's drive from the Kapoho area.
Those who live or vacation in the area were mourning the loss of popular tide-pools where children enjoyed swimming.
Thousands in the Puna area had to evacuate after the first fissure opened on 3 May. Officials had issued mandatory orders for residents of Leilani Estates, and those in Kapoho Beach and Vacationland were advised to leave by last Friday or risk being trapped and unreachable by emergency crews.
Homes in Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland are on smaller lots and are closer together than in other parts of the Puna district. Mr Okabe estimated there are several hundred homes in each of the two subdivisions.
Additional reporting by AP.
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