Spectators flock to see glowing lava erupting from the Hawaii volcano

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — The world’s largest volcano erupted streams of glowing lava on Wednesday, drawing thousands of awed spectators who blocked a Hawaii highway that could soon be covered by the flow.
Mauna Loa awoke from its 38-year slumber Sunday, dumping volcanic ash and debris from the sky. A major highway connecting towns on the east and west coasts of the Big Island spontaneously became a lookout point, with thousands of cars blocking the freeway near Volcanoes National Park.
Anne Andersen left her night shift as a nurse to watch Wednesday’s spectacle, fearing the road would soon be closed.
“It’s Mother Nature showing us her face,” she said as the volcano belched gas on the horizon. “It’s pretty exciting.”
Gordon Brown, a visitor from Loomis, California, could see the bright orange lava from the bedroom of his rental home. So he set off with his wife for a close-up.
“We just wanted to… see that as close as possible. And it’s so bright it just blows my mind,” Brown said.
The lava slowly tumbled down the slope and was about 10 kilometers from the highway known as Saddle Road. It wasn’t clear when or if it would cover the road that runs through ancient lava flows.
The road bisects the island and connects the cities of Hilo and Kailua-Kona. People traveling between them would have to take a longer coastal road if Saddle Road becomes impassable, adding several hours of driving time.
Ken Hon, senior scientist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said at the current flow rate, the lava would not reach the road for at least two days, but it will likely take longer.
“If the lava flow spreads, it will likely disrupt its own progress,” Hon said.
Kathryn Tarananda, 66, of Waimea, set two alarm clocks to make sure she wouldn’t oversleep and miss her chance to see the sunrise against the backdrop of Mauna Loa’s eruptions.
“It’s a thrill,” she said. “We are in the middle of rough nature. It is impressive that we live in this place. … I feel really, really lucky to be an islander.”
Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984. The current eruption is the 34th since written records began in 1843. Its smaller neighbor Kilauea has been erupting since September 2021, allowing visitors to the national park to experience the rare sight of two simultaneous erupting events: the glow from Kilauea’s lava lake and lava from one Mauna Loa fissure.
Abel Brown, a visitor from Las Vegas, was struck by the forces of nature on display here. He was planning to do an up-close helicopter tour later in the day — but not too close.
“There’s a lot of fear and trepidation when you get really close to him,” Brown said. “The closer you get, the more powerful it is and the scarier it is.”
Officials were initially concerned that lava flowing down Mauna Loa would flow toward the community of South Kona, but scientists later reassured the public that the eruption had moved into a rift zone on the volcano’s northeast flank and was not threatening communities.
The stench of volcanic gases and sulfur hung over Saddle Road, where people watched the broad lava flow draw closer.
Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation to allow emergency responders to arrive quickly or limit access as needed.
Ige, who has dealt with several volcanic eruptions during his eight years as governor, said diverting Mauna Loa’s molten rock onto the highway would be impossible.
“There is no physical or technological way to change the course of the lava,” Ige said at a press conference. He recalls wishing this could happen in 2018 when Kilauea spilled lava over homes, farms and roads.
“But as we saw in this event, the power of Mother Nature and Madam Pele overwhelms all we can do,” Ige said, referring to the Hawaiian deity of volcanoes and fire.
Ige said if lava were to cross the freeway, the Hawaii National Guard could help plan alternatives and try to set up bypass routes.
Lava crossed the access road to the Mauna Loa Observatory Monday night, disrupting power to the facility, the Hon said. It is the world’s leading station measuring heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The federal government is looking for a temporary alternate location on the Hawaiian island and is considering flying a generator to the observatory to restore its power supply so it can start taking measurements again.
Meanwhile, scientists are trying to measure the gas released by the eruption.
Kelleher reported from Honolulu. Selsky reported from Salem, Oregon. Associated Press reporters Jennifer Sinco Kelleher and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu and Greg Bull and Haven Daley in Hilo contributed to this report.