Officials in Hawaii have activated the state National Guard to help respond to the eruption of Mauna Loa, whose lava has been oozing steadily toward a critical highway for days.
The lava fountains that erupted from the volcano over the past week pose no threat to communities or property, officials said. Still, the eruption of the world’s largest active volcano has residents and officials on edge as molten rock continues to flow toward the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, threatening to close at least part of the road the shortest connecting the east and west sides of the Big Island. .
“Governor David Ige and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara on Monday activated 20 Hawaii National Guard service members and placed them on active duty to assist Hawaii County with traffic control and other roles in the Mauna Loa eruption,” the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.
On Monday, the lava was about 2.16 miles off the highway, known locally as Saddle Road, according to the US Geological Survey. And the rate at which the lava moves is unpredictable, making it difficult for experts to predict on a specific day when or if it might hit the highway.
“There are many variables at play and the direction and timing of flow progress is expected to change over time periods ranging from hours to days, making it difficult to estimate when or if flow will impact the Daniel K. Inouye Highway,” the geological survey said. .
Over the past day or so, lava has advanced toward the highway at a rate of 25 feet per hour, a reduction of 40 feet per hour over the weekend, according to the geological survey. “Although the rate of advance has slowed…the lava flow remains active with a continuous supply from the Fissure 3 vent.”
Mauna Loa’s last eruption was in 1984, when its lava reached about 4.5 miles from Hilo, the Big Island’s largest population center. Standing approximately 13,681 feet above sea level, the volcano covers half of the island of Hawaii, according to the geological survey.
Mauna Loa began erupting again on Nov. 27, joining neighboring Kilauea, which has been erupting since last year. Both volcanoes are located inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which remains open as it invites viewers to safely observe the twin eruptions.
“Entering the second week of the Mauna Loa eruption. Two volcanoes, two eruptions, one park. It was another ‘beautiful’ morning today!” the park said in an online post Monday.
As authorities scramble to determine if or when the lava flow will reach the main road, a volcano expert said the duration of the eruption will play a major role in what happens.
“We don’t know how long this eruption will last, and that will dictate whether or not the highway becomes more threatened,” said Natalia Deligne, volcanologist with the US Geological Survey at the Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory.
Closing the road would add hours to residents’ commutes, creating “a huge inconvenience,” Ige told CNN on Saturday.
Still, many flocked to see the rare sight of two erupting volcanoes just 21 miles apart.
For many Native Hawaiians, the eruption of volcanoes holds incredible spiritual significance.
On Friday, Ku’ulei Vickery, a native Hawaiian and teacher at a nearby public school, was among those who witnessed the flow of bright orange molten rock. She performed a traditional Hawaiian song and left some grown rosemary in her garden as an offering.
“As an indigenous person, I recognize the space that I am in. I recognize the goddess Pelé and the people who came before me, my ancestors,” she said. “You don’t go to someone’s house empty-handed. So that’s what I brought.
To accommodate the many residents and tourists drawn by the volcanic eruptions, authorities have created a safe vantage point on a one-way road accessible from the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, the County Civil Defense Agency said. ‘Hawaii.
Officials also implored the public to be aware of the potential dangers the eruptions pose to air quality.
Volcanic emissions include sulfur dioxide, which reacts with other elements in the atmosphere and can begin to form fine particles that cause vog, a type of volcanic air pollution known as volcanic smog.
“Vog creates the potential for airborne health hazards to residents and visitors, damages agricultural crops and other plants, and affects livestock operations,” according to the USGS.
The National Park Service urges vulnerable groups, usually including the elderly and children, to be cautious when viewing double flares.
“People with pre-existing respiratory conditions are particularly susceptible to poor air quality and should check the air quality alert before visiting,” the park service said.