HONOLULU (AP) – Waves of orange glowing lava and smoky ash erupted from the world’s largest active volcano on Monday, and people on Hawaii’s Big Island have been warned to be ready should debris threaten communities.
Mauna Loa’s eruption didn’t immediately endanger any cities, but officials told residents to brace for worse.
Many who live in the area today were not there when Mauna Loa last erupted 38 years ago. The US Geological Survey warned the roughly 200,000 people on the Big Island that an eruption “can be very dynamic, and the location and progression of lava flows can change rapidly.”
Lifelong Big Island resident Bobby Camara, who lives in Volcano Village, said everyone on the island should be vigilant and keeping an eye on the eruption.
“I think everyone should be a little concerned,” he said. “We don’t know where the current is going, we don’t know how long it will last.”
He said he’s seen three eruptions of Mauna Loa in his lifetime and knows people need to be vigilant.
The eruption began late Sunday night after a series of fairly large earthquakes, said Ken Hon, the lead scientist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Gunner Mench, who owns an art gallery in Kamuela, said he woke up just after midnight to see an alert on his phone about the outbreak.
Mench and his wife Ellie ventured out to film the eerie red glow from the eruption over the island and watched the lava flow down the side of the volcano.
“You could see it shooting up over the edge of this dip,” Mench said.
“Right now it’s just entertainment, but the concern is, ‘It could reach populated areas,’ he said.
In recent decades, the Big Island has experienced a development spurt – the population has more than doubled from 92,000 in 1980.
More than a third of the islanders live in either the city of Kailua-Kona west of the volcano with a population of about 23,000 and Hilo to the east with a population of about 45,000. Officials were most concerned about several subdivisions about 50 kilometers south of the volcano, which are home to about 5,000 people.
Time-lapse video of the eruption overnight showed lava illuminating an area and moving above it like waves on the ocean.
The US Geological Survey said the eruption had moved into a rift zone on the volcano’s northeast flank. Rift zones are areas where the mountain rock is fractured and relatively weak, allowing magma to escape more easily.
An eruption from the northeast could send lava toward the county seat of Hilo or other cities in eastern Hawaii, but it could take weeks or months for the lava to reach populated areas. It is possible that the eruption later shifts to a rift zone on the southwest flank. Lava emanating from this area could reach nearby communities in hours or days.
“We don’t want to try and second-guess the volcano,” Hon said. “We have to actually let them show us what it’s going to do and then let people know what’s happening as soon as possible.”
The Hawaii County Civil Defense announced that it has opened shelters because of reports of people being evacuated along the coast on their own initiative.
The average Mauna Loa eruption is typically short-lived, lasting a few weeks, the Hon said.
“Typically, Mauna Loa eruptions start with the largest volume first,” Hon said. “It calms down a bit after a few days.”
The USGS warned residents who may be threatened by Mauna Loa’s lava flows to review their eruption preparations. Scientists have been on alert for a recent earthquake spike at the volcano’s summit, which last erupted in 1984.
Parts of the Big Island were under an ash fall warning issued by the National Weather Service in Honolulu, which said ash could accumulate as much as 0.6 centimeters in some areas.
Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes that together make up the Big Island of Hawaii, which is the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago.
Rising 4,169 feet above sea level, Mauna Loa is Kilauea’s much larger neighbor, which erupted in a residential area in 2018 and destroyed 700 homes. Some of Mauna Loa’s slopes are much steeper than Kilauea’s, allowing lava to flow much faster when it erupts.
During an eruption in 1950, the mountain’s lava traveled 15 miles (24 kilometers) to the ocean in less than three hours.
Tourism is Hawaii’s economic engine, but Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth predicted few problems for those vacationing during the outbreak.
“It’s going to be spectacular where it is, but the chances of it really disrupting the visitor industry — very, very slim,” he said.
For some, the eruption could cut travel time even as there is more volcanic smog caused by higher sulfur dioxide emissions.
“But the good thing is that you no longer have to drive from Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see an eruption,” Roth said. “You can just look out your window at night and see Mauna Loa erupting.”
Julia Neal, owner of Pahala Plantation Cottages, said the eruption brings some relief after many preparatory meetings and leaves many wondering what the volcano will do.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “It’s a kind of relief that it’s happening and we’re not waiting for it to happen.”
A couple of prospective guests from the US mainland called Neal and “asked me for a prediction, which I can’t do,” she said. “So I said just stand still.”
Associated Press writers Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska contributed to this report.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.
- A new aerial video shows lava fringes closer to the main…
- Hawaii Volcano: State activates National Guard as lava from…
- Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano continues to erupt, but so far,…
- Scientists lower alert on Mauna Loa, saying eruption could…
- Hawaii Volcano: As officials urge viewers to beware of Mauna…
- Hawaii Volcano: State activates National Guard as…