Hawaii locals fear the effects of Mauna Loa’s eruption as lava erupts closer to a main road

Lava flows from the eruption of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, are moving towards a main road, adding to local concerns on an island with few main roads.

The US Geological Survey confirmed in its most recent update, released Thursday evening local time, that the lava flows are “flowing north toward the Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Saddle Road) but have reached relatively flatter ground and have slowed significantly as expected.” .”

The highway connects the east and west sides of the Big Island and acts as a thoroughfare between the cities of Hilo and Kona.

The lava is moving toward the highway at a rate of about 0.025 miles per hour, and as of 1 p.m. local time Thursday, the river front was about 3.2 miles from the highway, the agency said.

That rate means the river could reach the highway in about a week, but that schedule could change, according to the update, which notes that “many variables are at play and both the direction and timing of river progression are fluid.” and are expected to vary over periods ranging from hours to days.”

Closing the road would create problems, particularly for those using it to commute from Hilo and other parts of the east side of the island, where housing is generally cheaper, to jobs on the west side, where many of the larger beach resorts are located. Hilo is also home to the Hilo Medical Center, which employs 1,600 people, some of whom are from the West Side, Hawaii-based NBC affiliate KHNL reported.

People watch the lava flow from Mauna Loa volcano December 1 near Hilo, Hawaii. Gregory Bull/AP

“We have such limited roads on this island and every time we lose a road, all of the traffic goes somewhere else,” Kona resident Mike Brown told NBC News.

Unless some sort of bypass is built, commuters would have to take coastal roads to and from Kailua-Kona, adding at least an hour of extra travel each way.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige has issued an emergency proclamation to allow emergency responders to arrive quickly or limit access as needed.

If lava crosses the freeway, the Hawaii National Guard can help plan alternatives and attempt to establish bypass routes, he said.

Picture:
Cars line up along Saddle Road and occupants wait to see Mauna Loa Volcano Thursday.Gregory Bull/AP

Hayley Hina Barcia, who lives in Hilo and has family in Kona on the west side of the island, said her family relied on the freeway to see each other.

“We’ll likely have to drive several hours longer to take the southbound road or the northbound road.”

Sky Makai, a Hilo resident who works in Kona, said the freeway blockade would make commuting to work “a lot harder.”

“I don’t know many people who have a four-hour commute, eight hours a day,” he said. “So just trying to imagine that is quite difficult.”

Hawaii lava flows generally move slowly enough to be preventable, but according to the USGS they can be destructive: “They can destroy anything in their paths, including vegetation and infrastructure — which can disrupt road access and utility lines.”

Lava flows can also cause “severe burns, abrasions and lacerations on contact with unprotected or exposed skin” and affect air quality by leading to hot temperatures and reduced visibility after heavy rain, it said.

Mauna Loa, meaning “long mountain,” covers half of the island, according to the agency.

In about half of previous eruptions, the lava stayed in the crest region, which rises about 55,700 feet above its base. In the other cases, the lava poured into one of the rift zones, creating streams that covered much of the volcano’s lower slopes.

As of Sunday, geologists had recorded 33 eruptions since 1843, making Mauna Loa one of the world’s most active volcanoes. According to the USGS, it is one of six volcanoes in Hawaii.

When the volcano last erupted in 1984, a fast-moving lava flow came within 2 miles of Kulani Prison before stalling, according to the National Park Service.

A few days later, another lava flow that had moved 16 miles in just four days reached the outskirts of Hilo before stopping and sparing the city, the agency reported.

Corky Siemaszko and Peter Jary contributed.

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