The number of homes claimed by lava is now believed to be as high as 700 as vigorous eruptions on the Big Island continue.

"There a lot of desperation out there. A lot of tears. A lot of what now?" Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said, at a news conference Monday.

But Kim also sought to reassure residents, pointing to efforts by several agencies to get help to those in need.

Bob Fenton, FEMA administrator for Region IX, told reporters Monday he conducted an overflight of lava-ravaged areas Monday and was "amazed at the amount of devastation."

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He also said the federal agency doesn't have a magic wand and won't be able to make everyone whole.

"It's going to take a whole community effort" to help in the recovery, he said, adding that nonprofits are primarily offering the bulk of the resources and assistance to evacuees at this point.

Fenton added that assessments are underway to determine if homeowners and renters will be made eligible for individual FEMA assistance. The average payout under that program is $4,000 and the maximum is $35,000.

"In the interim, they should be seeking insurance if they have insurance. They should be going to the services available right now to them through voluntary organizations or other efforts that are assisting them right now through the shelters," he said.

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"I want to manage expectations, saying that a lot of our programs don't meet the long-term needs individuals may have here to ultimately move their house or to get them another house so we're going to have to work through those kinds of issues and figure out how to help them in the interim."

The news comes as eruptions in lower Puna are as vigorous as ever.

Over the weekend, gas emissions from fissure no. 8 nearly doubled, indicating a potential increase in its eruption rate.

The outbreak, which opened May 5, has become the single greatest source of lava from the eruption and continues to shoot out 15-story-high fountains of lava that are feeding flows hitting the sea and creating new land — more than 200 acres so far.

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Meanwhile, U.S. Geological Survey scientists said that two other fissures were also spitting out lava, but at much lower levels.

Also on Monday, Hawaii County Civil Defense said it's beginning to scale back operations because while lava continues to spew from the earth at a high rate, it's flowing over areas that have already been covered and hitting the sea off coastal communities that have already been destroyed.

"We've pretty much thrown everything at this event for the past month and half now," said Talmadge Magno, civil defense administrator. "Some aspects of it can kind of start to scale down as the volcano somewhat runs into a stable situation."

Last week, authorities allowed some Leilani Estates residents to return and about half of the subdivision's residents are now back full time, Magno said. The other half live in a part of the subdivision that remains under a mandatory evacuation order.

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Magno stressed that civil defense will remain activated round the clock, and that residents should remain vigilant.

Here are the latest warnings from civil defense authorities:

Lava hitting the ocean off Kapoho continues to create a large plume of laze — toxic gas and glass shards. The shelter at the Keaau Armory is full, but space remains at Pahoa Community Center. Gas emissions from the ongoing eruptions remain a serious health threat. Those in areas downwind of emissions are being urged to monitor sulfur dioxide levels and shelter-in-place or leave the area if they feel the effects of gas exposure.

Eruptions on the Big Island started May 3, forcing thousands to flee their homes.

Last week, the state pledged $12 million to help Hawaii County pay for the mounting costs of responding to Kilauea's ongoing eruptions.

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Already, the county has shelled out at least $3 million for disaster response, officials said.

[There are 24 fissures in Puna. Only one is spitting out 26,000 gallons of lava per second]

While the lava continues to spew in lower Puna, seismic events at Kilauea volcano's summit are also continuous.

The latest steam explosion to occur at the summit of Kilauea happened at around 4:45 a.m. Monday, which triggered an earthquake measured at a magnitude of 5.3. Officials said there was no tsunami threat. It is among the latest quakes to shake the area during the ongoing eruption.

And about four hours prior, another explosion occurred.

Cracking and slumping of the Halemaumau crater walls are clearly evident in aerial views, USGS said. Steam plumes have been rising from within the crater, as well as from cracks adjacent to the crater — which are more signs of ongoing seismic activity.

Janet Babb, of the USGS, said these events are becoming somewhat predictable as scientists track indicators that could lead to the next eruption. Babb said in a news conference that ash eruptions and earthquakes seem to be on a 24-48 hour cycle when the activity is repeated.

Although scientists are getting better at tracking precursors, there is still no way to pinpoint exactly what will happen next.

This story will be updated.

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