KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — Waves of glowing orange lava and smoldering ash spewed and spat Monday from the world’s largest active volcano in its first eruption in 38 years, and officials told residents of the Big Island of Hawaii to be prepared in the event of a worst-case scenario.
Mauna Loa’s eruption did not immediately endanger cities, but the US Geological Survey warned the Big Island’s estimated 200,000 people that an eruption “can be very dynamic, and the location and progression of lava flows can change rapidly”.
Officials have told residents to be prepared to evacuate if lava flows begin moving towards populated areas.
The eruption began late Sunday evening following a series of fairly large earthquakes, said Ken Hon, chief scientist at the Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory.
Areas where lava was emerging – the volcano’s summit crater and vents along the volcano’s northeast flank – are both far from homes and communities.
Officials have urged the public to stay away from them, given the dangers posed by the lava, which is shooting 100 to 200 feet (30 to 60 meters) into the air from three separate fissures estimated to be around 1 to 2 miles (1.6 to 3.2 kilometers) long.
Volcanic gases escaping from vents, primarily sulfur dioxide, are also harmful.
Air quality on the Big Island is more generally good right now, but authorities are watching it carefully, said Dr. Libby Char, director of the state health department.
Hon said air quality could deteriorate for the duration of the eruption, which scientists say will last about one or two weeks if the volcano follows historical patterns.
Longtime Big Island resident Bobby Camara, who lives at Volcano Village, said everyone on the island should monitor the eruption. He said he had seen three Mauna Loa eruptions in his lifetime and stressed the need to be vigilant.
“I think everyone should be a little worried,” he said. “We don’t know where the flow is going, we don’t know how long it’s going to be.”
Gunner Mench, owner of an art gallery in Kamuela, said he woke up shortly after midnight and saw 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 lava pour down the side of the volcano.
“You could see it shooting up into the air, over the edge of this depression,” Mench said.
“Right now it’s just entertainment, but the problem is ‘it could reach populated areas,’ he said.
Seeing Mauna Loa erupt is a new experience for many on 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 either the city of Kailua-Kona to the west of the volcano, with around 23,000 people, and Hilo to the east, with around 45,000. Officials were worried mostly from several subdivisions about 50 kilometers south of the volcano that house about 5,000 people.
Time-lapse video of the eruption overnight showed lava lighting up an area, rolling through it like waves on the ocean.
The US Geological Survey said the eruption migrated to a fault zone on the volcano’s northeast flank. Rift zones are where the mountain rock is fissured and relatively weak, which facilitates the emergence of magma.
The lava could move toward the Hilo County seat, but it could take about a week, Hon said at a news conference.
Scientists hope the flow will parallel the 1984 eruption, when the lava was more viscous and slowed down.
Mauna Loa has another fault zone on its southwest flank. Lava could reach nearby communities within hours or days if the volcano erupts from this area. But Hon said that historically, Mauna Loa has never erupted from both fault zones simultaneously.
“So we’re assuming at this point that all future activity will be on Mauna Loa’s northeast rift zone and not the southeast rift zone,” he said. “So people in this area don’t have to worry about lava flows.”
Hawaii County Civil Defense said it opened shelters because it had reports of people evacuating along the coast on their own initiative.
The USGS has warned residents who may be at risk from the lava flows to review their eruption preparations. Scientists were on high alert due to a recent spike 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 inch (0.6 centimeters) of ash could accumulate in some areas.
“Volcanic gas and possibly fine ash and Pele’s hair can be carried downwind,” Gov. David Ige said, referring to the glass fibers that form when hot lava erupts from a fissure and erupts. cools rapidly in air. The wind stretches the fibers into long strands that look like hair. “So we would definitely ask people with respiratory sensitivities to take precautions to minimize exposure.”
Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes that together form the Big Island of Hawaii, the southernmost island of the Hawaiian archipelago.
Mauna Loa, rising 4,169 meters above sea level, is the much taller neighbor of Kilauea, which erupted into a residential area and destroyed 700 homes in 2018. Some of Mauna Loa’s slopes are much steeper than Kilauea’s, so lava can flow much faster when it erupts.
During an eruption in 1950, lava from the mountain traveled 24 kilometers to the ocean in less than three hours.
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 – 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 though 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 the window at night and you can see Mauna Loa erupting.”
Associated Press writers Jennifer Sinco Kelleher and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu; Alina Hartounian in Phoenix and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska contributed to this report.
#Hawaii #volcano #eruption #prompts #people #prepare