Volcanic eruption in Hawaii attracts spectators

The first eruption of the world’s largest active volcano in 38 years is drawing onlookers to a Hawaiian national park for “spectacular” views of the event.

However, Mauna Loa’s eruption also brings back bad memories for some Hawaii residents who have had harrowing experiences.

Officials were initially concerned that lava flowing down the side of the volcano would flow toward South Kona, but scientists later reassured the public that the eruption traveled to a rift zone on Mauna Loa’s northeast flank and did not threaten any communities.

However, the uncertainty is somewhat irritating for many people.

Flowing lava

Nicole Skilling, who lived near another community where lava destroyed more than 700 homes in 2018, said: “It just happened last night, so basically I haven’t had much time to think about it.

“And fortunately, it’s in the northeast rift zone right now. But if it breaks on the west side then we’re talking about coming into a large populated area… So I have a bit of PTSD.”

Although there were no evacuation orders, some people decided to evacuate their homes, prompting officials to open shelters in the Kona and Kau areas. Very few, if any, stayed in them overnight, Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said, and they were scheduled to close Tuesday.

Despite this, some people in the area are preparing for sudden changes.

Hawaii volcano

Kamakani Rivera-Kekololio, who lives in the South Kona community of Hookena, had supplies, including groceries and blankets, in his car.

“We’re Makaukau for everything,” said Mr. Rivera-Kekololio, using the Hawaiian word for ready.

Ken Hon, senior scientist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said Tuesday that the lava flowed “not super fast” at less than 1 km/h, although the exact speed was not yet clear.

It was moving downhill about six miles from Saddle Road, which connects the east and west sides of the island. The current would likely slow down about four miles from the road as it hits flatter ground.

Hawaii volcano

It’s not clear when or if the lava will reach the road. It could flatten out later on Wednesday, according to Mr Hon.

The smell of volcanic gases and sulfur hung in the air Tuesday along Saddle Road, where people watched as a broad lava flow drew closer. The clouds cleared to reveal a large plume of gas and ash rising from an open peak vent above the current.

Governor David Ige issued a declaration of emergency.

“We are grateful that the lava flow is not affecting residential areas at this time, allowing schools and businesses to remain open,” he said in a statement.

“I am issuing this Emergency Proclamation now to allow responders to respond quickly or limit access if necessary while the outbreak continues.”

Hawaii volcano

Mr. Hon said lava crossed the access road to the Mauna Loa Observatory Monday night, cutting off power to the facility. He could be moving toward the county seat of Hilo, he added, but that could take a week or more.

Meanwhile, scientists are trying to measure the gas released by the eruption.

The eruption draws visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is open 24 hours a day.

Visitors can currently witness two eruption events there: the glow from Kilauea’s lava lake and lava from a Mauna Loa fissure.

Hawaii volcano

People in the northern Hilo area, closest to the Mauna Loa eruption, remain cautious but not overly scared.

Lindsay Cloyd, 33, said it scared her a bit, but she felt safe and also in awe of the forces of nature at work in her garden.

Originally from Utah and only a few years in Hawaii, she has never been part of an eruption before.

“I feel so humbled and small,” she said, adding that “it’s a profound, incredible experience to be here while this is happening.”