The Atlantic

Madame Pele's Grip on Hawaii

The Big Island’s residents are reacting to Kilauea’s latest eruption with a combination of grief and reverence.
Source: Caleb Jones / AP

Of all the Hawaiian deities, Pele is perhaps the most formidable. The goddess of fire (and volcanoes and lightning and wind), she has a reputation for being as fickle as she is fervent. From her home in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater at the summit of the Kīlauea volcano, the legend goes, Madame Pele determines when and where the lava flows. She is the goddess who “shapes the sacred land.”

Pele’s presence is always felt on Hawaii’s Big Island—Kīlauea has been erupting continuously since 1983. But rarely is it felt as much as it is right now. A cocktail of molten rock, gas, and steam is being forced up through the ground in parts of the island’s Puna district, creating 15 fissures as of Thursday morning. Toxic volcanic gas is spouting out of cracks and vents; lava is cutting across roads and burning trees and infrastructure; dusty-rose plumes of ash are muddying the already murky sky. Geologists are now predicting that Kīlauea will experience an explosive eruption in the coming weeks, potentially ejecting “ballistic rocks.”

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