HomePasifikaMauna Loa erupts after nearly four decades

Mauna Loa erupts after nearly four decades

by Allyson Pang, AsAmNews Intern

The world’s largest volcano Mauna Loa on Hawaii’s Big Island erupted for the first time in 38 years.

The eruption was anticipated after months of increased earthquake activity from the previously dormant volcano.

The current lava flow reached the bottom of Mauna Loa’s steepest slope and is expected to slow down as it spreads out, said Ken Hon, the scientist-in-charge at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory during this morning’s media teleconference attended by AsAmNews.

“Last night it was moving around…130 meters an hour and it’s about 3.6 miles from the Daniel K. Inouye (DKI) Saddle Road,” Hon said at the teleconference. “If it continues at that rate, the soonest it would get to the Saddle Road is approximately two days.”

DKI is a key state highway and provides a main form of transport for many residents as well as visitors. According to Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno, tentative plans to divert the lava from the road are still in progress.

At this point, no communities are threatened by the lava flow, Magno said during the teleconference.

However, the eruption continues to release volcanic gas into the air. According to Hon, Pele’s hair, or fine strands of glass, have been reported to be found five to ten miles from the vent.

One of the larger problems is managing the thousands of visitors and residents who crowd DKI to visit the eruption site.

Jessica Ferracane from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park stated that while Mauna Loa and Mauna Loa Road are both closed, the park is open 24/7 with viewing areas still open to visitors.

Ferracane cautioned visitors to drive safely and be aware of the air quality due to vog, or smog containing volcanic dust and gases.

Officials also asked visitors to respect Native Hawaiian culture and practices. However, they did not mention whether authorities were developing culturally competent emergency protocols.

“We all really want to push the message that people should be respectful,” Hon said. “This is a place with a culture. It is not just a place of entertainment so I think everyone visiting should try to keep that in mind. It’s a really fascinating and really amazing natural phenomenon that we’re seeing, but it has a lot of deeper meaning to a lot of the people on the island.”

Big Island resident Wilma Place is one of those people.

Place told AsAmNews she is grateful to be a witness of the power of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire. According to Native Hawaiian legend, Pele created the islands while in search of a new home, where she finally resided at the summit of Kīlauea.

The timing of the eruption happened to be on Lā Kūʻokoʻa, or Hawaiian Independence Day.

“I thought ‘wow, maybe Madam Pele is recognizing and putting a stamp to Hawaii’s independence and reaffirming it,'” Place said.

Place has not witnessed the eruption herself, but did express appreciation for being safe on Mauna Loa’s unaffected western slope.

“I feel really fortunate to be on this island and see the beauties and the bounties that surround me,” Place said. “It’s a reverence and respect for it, which was demonstrated by Hawaiians long ago and we try to carry it on in our present day.”

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