Hawaii volcano eruption prompts warning for people to prepare

Waves of glowing, orange lava and smoking ash gushed and sputtered Monday from the world’s largest active volcano in its first eruption in 38 years, and authorities told people living on the Big Island of Hawaii to be prepared in case of emergency. worst case scenario.

The Mauna Loa eruption did not immediately threaten cities, but the US Geological Survey warned about 200,000 people on the Big Island that an eruption “can be very dynamic and the location and progress of lava flows can change rapidly.”

Authorities told residents to be ready to evacuate if lava flows start heading toward populated areas.

The eruption began Sunday night after a series of fairly large earthquakes, said Ken Hon, scientist-in-charge at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory.

The areas where the lava was erupting, the volcano’s summit crater and vents along the volcano’s northeast flank, are far from homes and communities.

Officials urged the public to stay away from them, given the dangers posed by the lava, which shoots 100 to 200 feet (30 to 60 meters) into the air from three separate fissures estimated to be roughly 1 to 2 miles ( 1.6 to 3.2 kilometers) long.

Volcanic gases coming out of the vents, mainly sulfur dioxide, are also harmful.

Air quality on the Big Island is generally good right now, but officials are carefully monitoring it, said Dr. Libby Char, director of the state Department of Health.

Hon said air quality could deteriorate for the duration of the eruption, which scientists expect will last a week or two if the volcano follows historical patterns.

Longtime Big Island resident Bobby Camara, who lives in Volcano Village, said everyone on the island should keep track of the eruption. He said he has seen three Mauna Loa eruptions in his lifetime and stressed the need for vigilance.

“I think everyone should be a little concerned,” he said. “We don’t know where the flow is going, we don’t know how long it’s going to last.”

Gunner Mench, an art gallery owner in Kamuela, said he woke up just after midnight to see an alert on his phone about the eruption.

Mench and his wife, Ellie, ventured out to film the eerie red glow cast over the island, watching as lava poured down the side of the volcano.

“You could see it burst into the air, over the edge of this depression,” Mench said.

“Right now it’s just entertainment, but the concern is that” it could reach populated areas, he said.

Watching Mauna Loa erupt is a new experience for many residents of the Big Island, where the population has more than doubled from 92,000 in 1980.

More than a third of the island’s residents live in the city of Kailua-Kona, west of the volcano, or about 23,000 people, and Hilo, to the east, with about 45,000. Officials were most concerned about several subdivisions about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the volcano that are home to about 5,000 people.

A time lapse video of the overnight eruption showed lava lighting up an area, moving through it like waves in the ocean.

The US Geological Survey said the eruption had migrated into a rift zone on the volcano’s northeast flank. Rift zones are where the mountain rock is cracked and relatively weak, making it easier for magma to emerge.

The lava could move toward the Hilo county seat, but that could take about a week, Hon said at a news conference.

Scientists expect the flow to parallel the 1984 eruption, where the lava was more viscous and slower.

Mauna Loa has another rift zone on its southwestern flank. The lava could reach nearby communities in hours or days if the volcano erupts in this area. But Hon said that historically Mauna Loa has never erupted in both rift zones simultaneously.

“So we assume at this point that all future activity will be in Mauna Loa’s northeast rift zone and not the southeast rift zone,” he said. “So residents in that area don’t have to worry about lava flows.”

Hawaii County Civil Defense announced it had opened shelters because it had reports of people evacuating along the coast on their own initiative.

The USGS warned residents who could be threatened by lava flows to review their preparations for the eruption. Scientists had been on alert due to a recent increase in earthquakes at the top of the volcano, which last erupted in 1984.

Parts of the Big Island were under an ashfall advisory issued by the National Weather Service in Honolulu. He said up to a quarter of an inch (0.6 centimeters) of ash could accumulate in some areas.

“Volcanic gas and possibly fine ash and Pele’s hair can be blown away by the wind,” Gov. David Ige said, referring to glass fibers that form when hot lava erupts from a fissure and cools rapidly in the air. The wind stretches the fibers into long strands that look like hair. “So we would certainly ask people with respiratory sensitivities to take precautions to minimize exposure.”

Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes that together make up the Big Island of Hawaii, the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago.

Mauna Loa, rising 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above sea level, is Kilauea’s much larger neighbor, which erupted in a residential neighborhood and destroyed 700 homes in 2018. Some of Mauna Loa’s slopes are much steeper than those at Kilauea, so lava can flow much faster when it erupts.

During a 1950 eruption, lava from the mountain traveled 15 miles (24 kilometers) to the ocean in less than three hours.

Mauna Loa’s volume is estimated to be at least 18,000 square miles (75,000 square kilometers), making it the world’s largest volcano when measured from the ocean floor to its summit.

Tourism is Hawaii’s economic engine, but Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth predicted little trouble for vacationers during the eruption.

“It will be spectacular where it is, but the chances of it really disrupting the visitor industry are very, very slim,” he said.

Tourism officials said no one should have to change Big Island travel plans.

For some, the eruption could reduce travel time, even if there is more volcanic smog caused by increased sulfur dioxide emissions.

“But the cool thing is you no longer have to drive from Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see an eruption,” Roth said. “You can just look out the window at night and you can see Mauna Loa erupt.”