After volcanic eruption, Hawaiians face possible volcanic smog and acid rain

Volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawaii resumed this week, opening new vents as residents continue to evacuate.
7:35 | 05/10/18

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Transcript for After volcanic eruption, Hawaiians face possible volcanic smog and acid rain
Reporter: It is a torrent of molten rock devouring everything in its path. Part of the tropical paradise of Hawaii's big island torn open. Geysers of lava and ash spewing into the air. All from kilauea, one of six active volcanoes in Hawaii. In some places lava reaching as high as 330 feet, higher than the statue of liberty's torch. People saying the sound was akin to a jet engine's roar. It was thunderous. It was just like whoo. The level of lava coming out of that fissure is bad. The volume of lava is bad. This whole thing is a bad situation. Reporter: The lava reaching temperatures of nearly 2,000 degrees fahrenheit. So hot it can melt gold. Take a look at this time lapse video of a mustang bursting into flames as it's consumed. It's the lava from here going underground through here to the neighborhoods. That's right. Reporter: That molten rock traveling underground and erupting through the Earth. Spewing out 20 mild away on the neighborhood of Leilani estates. Nearly 2,000 residents of this and one other community evacuated. My mom's wedding gown. Just baby photos. Important things. Reporter: We met woody kehai Nelson at this roadblock hoping to go back in to pick up what he left when a friend showed him this video. Memories of being in my back yard. It's hard. Reporter: That giant wall of lava creeping through that yard closing in on his childhood home. Shock and the memories kind of hit me hard seeing photos of me and my brother in my back yard. Now it's cov ten feet of lava. Reporter: He grew up knowing this was a possibility. Ever since I was a child my mom told me we live by the volcano, it's really close, and it really did scare me throughout my life and kind of kept me up knowing the volcano's there and just the nightmare finally came true to Holy . Reporter: This nightmare for this island began last week. Holy . Come here, son. Come here, son. Oh, my god, guys. Reporter: Earthquakes rattling the big island. And as the first cracks in the Earth opened plumes of ash and smoke rose into the air. It was roaring sky high. It was incredible. It was fuming. It was roaring. It was thundering. Rocks are flying out of the ground. Reporter: There was 15 open fissures exposing fiery magma yofr taking neighborhood streets causing a week of mayhem. Over the weekend people like Chris kleps waited for hours in their vehicles. You've been out here all night long? I got out here about 3:00. And just sat and waited. What are you waiting for? To see if I can get in. Reporter: Only to learn he isn't allowed back in. You said you think your home is in danger? I think it is. Reporter: Why? What do you think is happening? Where the new fissures opened up it's right on the corner. I think it's heading toward us. We kind of gave up hope. Reporter: When you saw where that latest vent opened up, tell me what went through your mind. I just wanted to cry. I justge wanted to cry. Reporter: So you think when you finally do get back home what will you find? Ashes. It's ashes. If we're allowed back in. Or a solid rock wall. Reporter: Today the situation on the ground in Leilani estates is still volatile. Authorities allowing some evacuees back in for a few hours at a time to gather their belongings. It doesn't seem real. We walk our dogs up and down this street every day. Reporter: Raylene lairham and her son evacuated last week. We didn't think it was real at first. But it's almost like you can feel the lava flowing under you. We'd sit in the living room and just feel it, just the vibration was strange. Reporter: The fate of their home still uncertain. Very difficult not knowing. And they didn't know, they couldn't give us addresses last night, which was frustrating. Reporter: One of authorities' concerns, the dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide fumes in the community. Sulfur dioxide is a natural gas that comes out of lava. At low levels it can be just irritating to people are respiratory issues. But then at upper levels it could be fatal. Reporter: The National Guard is monitoring the toxic fumes. We're already well over what could be considered safe. Reporter: Pleading with residents to stay away. Like choking on rotten eggs. It's really thick. It makes your eyes water, your throat hurts, everything hurts. Your lungs literally ache. So you've got to just run. Reporter: Julie lealoha is lucky. My house is fine. Standing so far. It's just saturated with S o2. Reporter: In all 36 structures, most of them homes, have been destroyed. More than 100 acres consumed by the lava, and no one knows when it's going to end. Could continue to flow for several weeks, several months, several days. Several years. We don't know. The worry level is high right now. Reporter: Worry but a level of acceptance. Locals saying this land belongs to the goddess of fire and volcanoes, pele. Some claiming to see her image in the eruptions. Pele's described by some as mythology or folklore, but to native hawaiians she is much, much more than that. She's the island body. And we know that when we feel a rumble or a shake the volcano, we know that it breathes. Reporter: They believe tutu, or grandmother pele as she's often called, lives here in kilauea. Wow. Just for some perspective we are here on the edge of kilauea volcano. Reporter: Kilauea is one of the world's most active volcanoes, spewing lava since 1983. It's part of what drew 2 million tourists last year to Hawaii volcanoes national park. What do they see normally? It really varies. For the last ten years or so when this started to erupt again the lava lake would create a really magnificent glow in the evening. Reporter: That volcanic activity erupting outside of the park has been historically devastating. In 1990 the town of kalapana left buried under 50 feet of lava. In 1960 nearly the same in the town of kapoho. And today an explosion as rocks in the volcano's other crater crashed into the lava lake below. We watched as it created the largest ash plume at kilauea since 1924. Oh, my goodness. That is just remarkable. Reporter: Sending geologists scrambling. Yeah, this is a big deal. Reporter: They say it is all connected to the ongoing volcanic eruptions that are holding this small corner of the island hostage by waves of lava. Permanent changes to the landscape and lives here as Nelson and his neighbors focus on their faith as they look forward. You try, but it's what it is. Pele, goddess of pele, she owns all this land, which is all her home. So she's taking back what rightfully is hers. Reporter: For "Nightline" I'm Marci Gonzalez in Hawaii.

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