Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, has begun erupting in Hawaii, the US Geological Survey and other authorities said, prompting officials to warn residents of the Big Island of Hawaii of be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
The eruption began late Sunday around 11:30 p.m. HST at Moku’āweoweo, the summit caldera of Mauna Loa in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, according to a Alert at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. The observatory said it was working closely with emergency management partners.
The eruption had remained confined to the summit caldera by early Monday, but USGS Volcanoes and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency later reported some overflows on the southwestern part. Shortly before 12:20 p.m. EST (7:20 a.m. HST) USGS Volcanoes announcement the volcano’s eruption had moved into the northeast rift zone, with lava flows heading north.
In a later update, USGS Volcanoes reported that the eruption in the northeast rift zone was still ongoing but no lava was erupting from the southwest rift zone.
“We do not expect any eruptive activity outside of the northeast rift zone. No properties are currently at risk,” USGS Volcanoes said on Twitter.
An eruption from the northeast means that lava could flow toward Hilo, Hawaii or other places in eastern Hawaii, but it could take weeks or even months for the lava to reach people. Lava emerging from a southwest rift zone could reach communities within hours or days.
USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said the lava flows do not threaten any neighboring communities downstream at this time. However, volcanic gas, fine ash and Pele’s hairthin strands of volcanic glass, could “be carried downwind”.
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The Observatory added that it appears the eruption will remain in the northeast rift zone.
“The shift from the eruption zone to the northeast rift zone brings the hazard to much less steep terrain,” the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said. tweeted following development.
“Eruptions on steep terrain move rapidly downward while the lava is still very hot and liquid. The shallow slopes allow it to cool more as it descends, further slowing its progress. Eruptions from the NE rift zone can take weeks or months to reach the sea, versus . hours on steeper slopes.”
Although nearby communities are not at risk at the moment, shelters have been opened as a precaution in Kailua-Kona and Pahala.
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.”
The USGS encouraged residents potentially threatened by Mauna Loa lava flows to review their eruption preparations, noting that past events show lava flows can “change rapidly.” Hawaii County Civil Defense also has a Mauna Loa Lava flood zone map for reference.
“If the eruption remains at Moku’āweoweo, the lava flows will most likely be confined within the walls of the caldera. However, if the eruptive vents migrate outside its walls, the lava flows may become moving rapidly downward,” the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory wrote in its Sunday night alert.
Parts of the Big Island were also under an ashfall advisory on Monday morning, although it completed later in the day. Officials warned people with respiratory illnesses or sensitivities to take precautions, even after the advisory was lifted.
The Hawaii Department of Health has advised residents and visitors to prepare for air quality impacts from Monday afternoon’s eruption. As of 7 p.m. EST, air quality remained normal, according to the Department of Health.
But the department warned that “the eruption could lead to increased and fluctuating vog conditions, airborne ash and sulfur dioxide levels in various areas of the state.”
With conditions changing rapidly, the department advised people to take precautionary measures, including reducing exposure outdoors and wearing masks outdoors to limit inhalation of hazardous particles.
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Due to a spike in earthquakes atop Mauna Loa, scientists have been on alert for an eruption. With Sunday evening’s eruption, the volcano’s alert level for Mauna Loa was raised from advisory to warning, and its aviation alert went from yellow to red.
Mauna Loa, which last erupted in 1984, rises 13,679 feet above sea level. It is one of five volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii.
Mauna Loa is immediately north of the Kilauea volcano, which is also erupting – but with a “monitored” volcanic alert level and an aviation amber alert, according to the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. A 2018 Kilauea eruption destroyed 700 homes and sent lava into the ocean.
Because Mauna Loa is larger than Kilauea, experts note, it could tumble down some of its hills faster due to steeper grades — perhaps within hours.
Contributor: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press