Damage assessment for the 2018 Lower East Rift Zone lava flows of Kīlauea volcano, Hawaiʻi

Publication type

Journal Article

Research Area



Cataloguing damage and its correlation with hazard intensity is one of the key components needed to robustly assess future risk and plan for mitigation as it provides important empirical data. Damage assessments following volcanic eruptions have been conducted for buildings and other structures following hazards such as tephra fall, pyroclastic density currents, and lahars. However, there are relatively limited quantitative descriptions of the damage caused by lava flows, despite the number of communities that have been devastated by lava flows in recent decades (e.g., Cumbre Vieja, La Palma, 2021; Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2002 and 2021; Fogo, Cape Verde, 2014–2015). The 2018 lower East Rift Zone (LERZ) lava flows of Kīlauea volcano, Hawaiʻi, inundated 32.4 km2 of land in the Puna District, including residential properties, infrastructure, and farmland. During and after the eruption, US Geological Survey scientists and collaborators took over 8000 aerial and ground photographs and videos of the eruption processes, deposits, and impacts. This reconnaissance created one of the largest available impact datasets documenting an effusive eruption and provided a unique opportunity to conduct a comprehensive damage assessment. Drawing on this georeferenced dataset, satellite imagery, and 2019 ground-based damage surveys, we assessed the pre-event typology and post-event condition of structures within and adjacent to the area inundated by lava flows during the 2018 LERZ eruption. We created a database of damage: each structure was assigned a newly developed damage state and data quality category value. We assessed 3165 structures within the Puna District and classified 1839 structures (58%) as destroyed, 90 structures (3%) as damaged, and 1236 (39%) as unaffected. We observed a range of damage states, affected by the structural typology and hazard characteristics. Our study reveals that structures may be damaged or destroyed beyond the lava flow margin, due to thermal effects from the lava flow, fire spread, or from exposure to a range of hazards associated with fissure eruptions, such as steam, volcanic gases, or tephra fall. This study provides a major contribution to the currently limited evidence base required to forecast future lava flow impacts and assess risk.


Damage assessment, Fire, Gases, Kīlauea volcano, Lava flows, Lower East Rift Zone, Physical vulnerability, tephra

Publication Details


Bulletin of Volcanology



Date Published



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