HILO, Hawaii (AP) — The first eruption in 38 years of the world’s largest active volcano is drawing spectators to a national park for “spectacular” views of the event, and also bringing up bad memories among some. Hawaii residents who have been through harrowing volcanic experiences in the past.
Just four years ago, Nicole Skilling fled her home near a community where lava destroyed more than 700 residences. She moved to the South Kona area, only to find herself loading her car with food and supplies this week after Mauna Loa erupted Sunday night.
Initially, officials were concerned that lava flowing down the side of the volcano was headed south of Kona, but scientists later assured the public that the eruption migrated into a zone of rifts on Mauna Loa’s northeast flank and did not threatened no community.
Still, the uncertainty is somewhat disconcerting.
“It just happened last night, so I haven’t really had a lot of time to worry about it, basically,” Skilling said Monday. “And luckily, right now, it’s in the northeast rupture zone. But if it breaks on the west side, that’s when we’re talking about entering a large populated area. … That’s why I have a little bit of PTSD.”
Although there were no evacuation orders, some people decided to leave their homes, prompting authorities 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 would close Tuesday.
Despite that, some in the area were preparing for unpredictable changes.
Kamakani Rivera-Kekololio, who lives in the South Kona community of Hookena, kept supplies like food and blankets in her car.
“We are being makaukau for anything,” Rivera-Kekololio said, using the Hawaiian word for “ready.”
Ken Hon, scientist in charge of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, said Tuesday that the lava was flowing “not very fast” at less than 1 mph, though the exact speed was not yet clear. It was moving downhill about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from Saddle Road, which connects the east and west sides of the island. The flow is likely to slow about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from the highway as it reaches flatter terrain.
It was not clear when or if the lava will hit the road. It could reach flatter ground later on Tuesday or Wednesday, according to the Hon.
“We’re not even sure it’s going to hit the road, but that’s certainly the next step in progress if it continues these trends,” he said, adding that it’s also possible that a fissure could open up and drain some of the supply. feeding the flow.
The smell of volcanic gases and sulfur hung in the air Tuesday along Saddle Road, where people watched as a large flow of lava approached. The clouds cleared to reveal a large plume of gas and ash rising from an open summit vent above the flow.
Governor David Ige issued an emergency proclamation.
“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 first responders to respond quickly or limit access, if necessary, as the eruption continues.”
Hon said lava crossed the access road to the Mauna Loa Observatory Monday night, knocking out power to the facility. It could move to the Hilo county seat, she added, but that could take a week or more.
Meanwhile, scientists are trying to measure the gas emitted from the eruption.
“It’s very early in this eruption right now,” Hon said.
The eruption is drawing visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is open 24 hours a day. “The viewing has been spectacular,” especially before dawn and at night, park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said.
Currently, visitors can witness two eruptive events: Kilauea’s lava lake glow and Mauna Loa’s fissure lava.
“This is a rare time where we have two eruptions simultaneously,” Ferracane said.
People in the northern Hilo neighborhood closest to the Mauna Loa eruption were cautious, but not overly scared Tuesday.
Lindsay Cloyd, 33, said it makes her a little nervous, but she feels safe and also in awe of the forces of nature happening in her backyard.
Originally from Utah and living in Hawaii for only a few years, she has never been part of an eruption.
“I feel so humbled and small,” she said, adding that “it’s a profound and incredible experience to be here while that happens.”
Down the street, Thomas Schneider, 38, an optical engineer at the Gemini Observatory on Mauna Kea, has just finished building his new neighborhood home.
The lava threat was never raised when he was buying the property, but he had lived in Hilo for more than a decade and knew the risks.
“If you were to look around my property, you would see jutting out lava rock formations,” he said. “We live on an active volcano, so everywhere there is a kind of lava zone.”
Mauna Loa’s latest eruption came close to her neighborhood, but stopped short.
He said he’s not afraid.
“I’ve been waiting since I moved here to see Mauna Loa, it’s supposed to be spectacular,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting that it’s finally erupting.”
Kelleher reported from Honolulu. Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu contributed.