(NBC)High levels of "dangerous" sulfur dioxide gas were detected in the air early Friday morning in an area of Hawaii where hours earlier a volcanic eruption spewed lava and forced hundreds to flee, authorities said. Hawaii County civil defense officials ordered some of the 1,700 residents of Leilani Estates in the Puna district, on the eastern coast of the Big Island, to evacuate late Thursday afternoon as steam and red lava began emerging from a crack in the earth in the Leilani neighborhood. About 770 structures are located in the threatened mountainside subdivision, and government officials opened shelters at two community centers to accommodate those who rushed out of the lava's path. They were no immediate reports of injuries or damage to homes, but video footage from above showed glowing lava cutting through vegetation. Fire officials on the Big Island said elderly residents, young people and others with respiratory issues were most susceptible to the poor air quality. A temporary flight restriction was in place for most of lower Puna. The eruption was reported at about 4:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. ET), about six hours after a magnitude-5.0 earthquake rattled the active Kilauea volcano following several days of smaller tremors, said the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, an agency of the U.S. Geological Survey. The observatory said the lava was erupting from the volcano's lower East Rift Zone. NBC affiliate KHNL of Honolulu quoted residents as saying they could see lava spilling from cracks in roadways. Ikaika Marzo said he first noticed fountains of lava spouting 100 feet, and scrambled to call everyone he knew in the area. "When we drove on that road, we heard a noise in the forest and it was like a little thump," he told KHNL. "Next thing, like three to five seconds after that, we smelled sulfur. After that, that's when there was tons of sulfur. Then we saw some lava popping out." Some residents took the evacuations in stride. "I'm just hoping that it doesn't hurt anybody's home or hurt anyone, wherever Pele decides to pop out," Bailee Yamada of the Puna region told KHNL, invoking the name of the Hawaiian goddess who legend says lives on Kilauea's summit. "If Pele comes, Pele comes," Curt Redman of Puna told the station. "Now we're kind of crossing our fingers to see what Pele might do next." Gov. David Ige activated the Hawaii National Guard to assist with evacuations and security. Ige said early Thursday night that he had consulted with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim and that "the state is actively supporting the county's emergency response efforts." It's unclear how long the eruption will continue, scientists say. Kilauea is the most active of the five volcanoes that form the island of Hawaii. Its most recent major eruption came in June 2014, disgorging lava flows that continued for months before they stopped just short of the town of Pahoa.
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