People on Hawaii’s Big Island have been cautioned to be ready in case their villages are threatened as waves of flaming lava and smokey ash is erupting and sputtering from the planet’s largest active volcano.
Caleb Jones, Associated Press
On October 27, 2022, the Big Island of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa is seen from the Gilbert Kahele Recreation Area off Saddle Road. At Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, the ground is trembling and swelling, signaling the possibility of an eruption. Despite scientists’ claims that an eruption will not occur immediately, Big Island officials are warning residents to be prepared in case one does occur soon.(AP Photographer/Megan Moseley)
The Associated Press
Hawaii’s Kailua-Kona In its first eruption in 38 years, the largest active volcano in the world belched and spewed waves of orange, incandescent lava, and hazy ash on Monday, and authorities warned residents of Hawaii’s Big Island to be prepared in case the worst happened.
The U.S. Geological Survey issued a warning to the approximately 200,000 residents of the Big Island that an eruption “may be quite dynamic, and the location and advance of lava flows might alter fast.” Although communities weren’t immediately in danger, Mauna Loa’s eruption was.
Officials have warned residents to prepare to flee if lava flows begin to move into populated areas.
According to Ken Hon, the scientist in charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, a series of fairly large earthquakes were followed by the eruption late Sunday night.
The summit crater of the volcano and vents on the volcano’s northeast flank are both remote locations where lava was erupting.
Given the dangers posed by the lava, which is spewing out of three distinct cracks that are generally estimated to be 1 to 2 miles (1.6 to 3.2 kilometers) long, authorities asked the public to keep away from them.
Sulfur dioxide and other volcanic gases that are released from the vents are also dangerous.
Overall, the Big Island’s air quality is good right now, but officials are closely watching it, according to Dr. Libby Char, the state Department of Health’s director.
The duration of the eruption, which scientists predict will be one to two weeks if the volcano follows historical patterns, could worsen the air quality, according to Hon.
Bobby Camara, a Volcano Village resident who has lived on the Big Island his entire life, advised island residents to follow the eruption. He emphasized the need for awareness and claimed to have witnessed three Mauna Loa eruptions in his lifetime.
Everyone, he continued, “should be a little bit concerned.” We don’t know where the flow is going or how long it will last, either.
The owner of an art gallery in Kamuela, Gunner Mench, claimed to have woken up just after midnight to see a notification about the eruption on his phone.
Mench went outside with his wife Ellie to photograph the eerie red glow projected over the island and to observe lava flowing down the volcano’s flank.
Mench remarked that he could see it “spurting up into the air, over the edge of this depression.”
“Right now it’s just entertainment,” he said, “but the worry is that it might reach populated areas.”
Many people living on the Big Island, where the population has more than doubled from 92,000 in 1980, have never witnessed Mauna Loa erupt.
Both Hilo, which has around 45,000 people and is located to the east of the volcano, and Kailua-Kona, which has roughly 23,000 people, are home to more than one-third of the island’s population. The several subdivisions with about 5,000 residents that are located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) to the south of the volcano caused the most concern among officials.
Lava lit up one area and spread across it like waves on the ocean in a time-lapse video taken during the eruption’s overnight period.
The eruption, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, has moved to a rift zone on the volcano’s northeast slope. Mountain rock is broken and relatively weak in rift zones, which makes it simpler for magma to erupt.
However, Hon warned that it might take a week for the lava to reach Hilo, the county seat.
Scientists are hoping that the flow will be similar to the eruption in 1984 when the lava was slower-moving and more viscous.
The first morning of the 1984 eruption, long, burning red lava flows stretched across Mauna Loa’s northeastern side.
On the southwest side of Mauna Loa, there is another rift zone. If the volcano erupts from this location, lava might reach adjacent communities in a matter of hours or days. Hon, however, asserted that historically, Mauna Loa has never simultaneously erupted from both rift zones.
Therefore, he said, “we currently assume that all future activity will be on the northeast rift zone of Mauna Loa and not on the southeast rift zone.” Therefore, the locals in that area don’t need to be concerned about lava flows.
A shelter opening announcement was made by Hawaii County Civil Defense in response to reports of individuals choosing to evacuate from areas along the ocean.
Residents who might be in danger from the lava flows were advised by the USGS to examine their eruption preparations. Due to a recent increase in tremors at the volcano’s top, which last erupted in 1984, scientists have been on high alert.
The National Weather Service in Honolulu had issued an ashfall advisory for several areas of the Big Island. It warned that ash could build up to a quarter-inch (0.6 centimeters) thick in some places.
Gov. David Ige referred to the glass fibers that form when hot lava erupts from a fissure and swiftly cools in the air as “volcanic gas and potentially fine ash, and Pele’s hair may be carried downwind.” The fibers are stretched by the wind into long strands that resemble hair. Therefore, we would definitely advise people who have respiratory sensitivities to take steps to reduce exposure.
The Big Island of Hawaii, the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago, is made up of five volcanoes, including Mauna Loa.
Kilauea, which erupted in a community and destroyed 700 homes in 2018, has a far larger neighbor, Mauna Loa, which rises 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above sea level. When Mauna Loa erupts, lava can flow significantly more quickly due to some of its slopes being far steeper than those of Kilauea.
In less than three hours, the lava from the mountain’s 1950 eruption traveled 15 miles (24 kilometers) to the ocean.
When measured from its summit to the ocean floor, Mauna Loa has a volume of at least 18,000 square miles (75,000 square kilometers), making it the largest volcano in the world.
Hawaii’s economy depends heavily on tourism, but Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth anticipated a few issues for visitors while the eruption was occurring.
The likelihood that it would really disrupt the tourism business is “very, very minimal,” he added, adding that it will be stunning where it is.
No one should have to alter their Big Island holiday plans, according to tourism officials.
Even if there is greater volcanic smog due to increased sulfur dioxide emissions, the eruption may shorten travel times for some.
But the good news is that viewing an eruption no longer necessitates traveling from Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, according to Roth. “All you have to do at night is peek out your window to see Mauna Loa erupting.”
Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, Jennifer Sinco Kelleher and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, and Alina Hartounian in Honolulu all contributed to this report.