Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Volcano Erupts: Live Updates

HONOLULU (AP) — The largest active volcano in the world was erupting on Monday and not immediately threatening communities on Hawaii’s Big Island, but officials warned residents to be prepared for the worst.

Many current residents did not live there when Mauna Loa last erupted 38 years ago. The US Geological Survey has warned the Big Island’s roughly 200,000 residents that an eruption “can be very dynamic, and the location and progress of lava flows can change rapidly.”

The eruption began late Sunday night following a series of fairly large earthquakes, said Ken Hon, the lead scientist at the Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory.

There has been a spurt of development on the Big Island in recent decades – its population has more than doubled from 92,000 in 1980.

Most of the island’s residents live in the city of Kailua-Kona to the west of the volcano, which has about 23,000 residents, and Hilo to the east, with about 45,000. Officials were mostly concerned about several subdivisions about 30 miles south of the volcano, which are home to about 5,000 people.

A accelerated video of the overnight eruption showed lava lighting up an area, rolling through it like waves on the ocean.

The US Geological Survey said the eruption migrated to a rift zone – a place where the mountain rock is fissured and relatively weak – making it easier for magma to emerge.

An eruption from the area could send lava toward the county seat of Hilo or other towns in eastern Hawaii, but it could take weeks or months for lava to reach populated areas.

“We don’t want to guess the volcano,” Hon said. “We have to let him show us what he’s going to do and then let people know what’s going on as soon as possible.”

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

Mauna Loa’s average eruption is usually not prolonged and lasts a few weeks, Hon said.

“Typically, Mauna Loa eruptions begin with the heaviest volume,” Hon said. “After a few days it starts to calm down a bit.”

The USGS has warned residents threatened by Mauna Loa lava flows to review their eruption preparations. Scientists were on 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 Honolulu National Weather Service, which said up to 0.6 centimeters of ash could accumulate in some areas.

Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes that together form the Big Island of Hawaii, which is the southernmost island in 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 its slopes are much steeper than those of Kilauea, so the lava can flow much faster when it erupts.

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

Tourism is Hawaii’s economic engine, but 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.

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.”

Julia Neal, owner of Pahala Plantation Cottages, said the eruption is bringing some relief after many preparatory meetings and lots of wondering what the volcano is going to do.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “It’s kind of a relief that this is happening and we’re not waiting for it to happen.”

A few future guests from the continental US called Neal “asking me to make a prediction, which I can’t,” she said. “So I said, stay there.”

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Associated Press writers Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska contributed to this report.

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