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But I will return to the source of the eruption. This is in a forest, and in the bottom of an ancient wooded crater, about four hundred feet deep, and pro-. bably eight miles east from Kilauea. The region being uninhabited and covered with a thicket, it was some time before the place was discovered, and up to this time, though several foreigners have attempted it, no one, except myself, has reached the spot. From Kilauea to this place the lava flows in a subterranean gallery, probably at the depth of a thousand feet, but its course can be distinctly traced all the way, by the rending of the crust of the earth into innumerable fissures, and by the emission of smoke, steam, and gases.
The eruption in this old crater is small, and from this place the stream disappears again for the distance of a mile or two, when the lava again gushed up and spread over an area of about fifty acres. Again it ground for two or three miles, when it reappears in another old wooded crater, consuming the forest, and partly filling up the basin. Once more it disappears, and flowing in a subterranean channel, cracks and breaks the earth, opening fissures from six inches to ten or twelve feet in width, and sometimes splitting the trunk of a tree so exactly that its legs stand astride at the fissure.
At some places it is impossible to trace the subterranean stream, on account of the impenetrable thicket under which it passes. After flowing under ground several miles, perhaps six or eight, it again broke out like an overwhelming flood, and sweeping forest, hamlet, plantation, and every thing before it, rolled down with resistless energy to the sea, where,
leaping a precipice of forty or fifty feet, it poured itself in one vast cataract of fire into the deep below, with loud detonations, fearful hissings, and a thousand unearthly and indescribable sounds. Imagine to yourself a river of fused minerals, of the breadth and depth of Niagara, and of a deep gory red, falling, in one emblazoned sheet, one raging torrent, into the ocean ! The scene, as described by eye witnesses, was terribly sublime. Two mighty agencies in collision ! Two antagonist and gigantic forces in contact, and producing effects on a scale inconceivably grand !
The atmosphere in all directions was filled with ashes, spray,
and gases; while the burning lava, as it fell into the water, was shivered into millions of minute particles, and being thrown back into the air, fell in showers of sand on all the surrounding country. The coast was extended into the sea for a quarter of a mile, and a pretty sand-beach and a new cape were formed. Three hills of scoria and sand were also formed in the sea, the lowest about two hundred and the highest about three hundred feet.
For three weeks this terrific river disgorged itself into the sea with little abatement. Multitudes of fishes were killed, and the waters of the ocean were heated for twenty miles along the coast. The breadth of the stream, where it fell into the sea, is about half a mile, but inland it varies from one to four or five miles in width, conforming itself, like a river, to the face of the country over which it flowed. Indeed, if you can imagine the Mississippi, converted into liquid fire, of the consistency of fused iron, and moving onward, sometimes rapidly, sometimes sluggishly; now widening into a sea, and anon rushing through a narrow defile, winding its way through mighty forests and ancient solitudes, you will get some idea of the spectacle now exhibited.
The depth of the stream will probably vary from ten to two hundred feet, according to the inequalities of the surface over which it passed. During the flow, night was converted into day. The light rose and spread like the morning upon the mountains, and its glare was seen on the opposite side of the island. It was also distinctly visible for more than one hundred miles at sea; and at the distance of forty miles, fine print could be read at midnight. The brilliancy of the light was like a blazing firmament, and the scene is said to have been one of unrivaled sublimity.
The whole course of the stream from Kilauea to the sea is about forty miles. Its mouth is about twenty five miles from the Hilo station. The ground over which it flowed, descends at the rate of one hundred feet to the mile. The crust is now cooled, and may be traversed with care, though scalding steam, pungent gases, and smoke are still emitted in many places.
In pursuing my way for nearly two days over this mighty smouldering mass, I was more and more impressed at every step with the wonderful scene. Hills had been melted down like wax; ravines and deep valleys had been filled; and majestic forests had disappeared like feathers in the flames. In some places the molten stream parted and flowed in separate channels for a considerable distance, and then reuniting, formed islands of various sizes, from one to fifty acres, with trees still standing, but seared and blighted by the intense heat.
On the outer edges of the lava, where the stream was more shallow and the heat less vehement, and where of course the liquid mass cooled soonest, the trees were mowed down like grass before the scythe, and left charred, crisped, smouldering, and only half consumed. As the lava flowed around the trunks of large trees on the outskirts of the stream, the melted mass stiffened and consolidated before the trunk was consumed, and when this was effected, the top of the tree fell, and lay unconsumed on the crust, while the hole which marked the place of the trunk remains almost as smooth and perfect as the caliber of a cannon. These holes are innumerable, and I found them to measure from ten to forty feet deep; but as I remarked before, they are in the more shallow parts of the lava, the trees being entirely consumed where it was deeper.
During the flow of this eruption, the great crater of Kilauea sunk about three hundred feet, and her fires became nearly extinct, one lake only out of many, being left active in this mighty caulifron. This, with other facts which have been named, demonstrates that the eruption was the disgorgement of the fires of Kilauea. The open lake in the old crater is at present intensely active, and the fires are increasing, as is evident from the glare visible at our station and from the testimony of visiters.
During the early part of the eruption, slight and repeated shocks of earthquake were felt, for several successive days, near the scene of action. These shocks were not noticed at Hilo.
Through the direction of a kind Providence no lives were lost, and but little property was consumed during this amazing flood of fiery ruin. The stream passed over an uninhabited desert. A few little hamlets were consumed, and a few plantations were destroyed; but the inhabitants, forewarned, fled and escaped. During the progress of the eruption some of the people in Puna spent most of their time in prayer and religious meetings, some flew in consternation from the face of the all-devouring element, others wandered along its margin, marking with idle curiosity its daily progress, while another class still coolly pursued their usual vocations, unawed by the burning fury as it rolled along within a mile of their doors, apparently indifferent to the roar of consuming forests, the sight of devouring fire, the startling detonations, the hissing of escaping steam, the rending of the earth, the shivering and melting of gigantic rocks, the raging and dashing of the fiery waves, the bellowings, the murmurings, the unearthly mutterings coming up from the burning deep.
They went carelessly on amid the rain of ashes, sand, and fiery scintillations, gazing vacantly on the fearful and ever varying appearance of the atmosphere, murky, black, livid, blazing, the sudden rising of lofty pillars of flame, the upward curling of ten thousand columns of smoke, and their majestic roll in dense, dingy, lurid or party-colored clouds.
During the progress of the descending stream, it would often fall into some fissure, and forcing itself into apertures and under massive rocks, and even hillocks and extended plats of ground, and lifting them from their ancient beds, bear them with all their super