The relentless eruption of the world’s largest active volcano has prompted Hawaii’s National Guard to intervene as residents and tourists flock to watch.
For 10 days, Mauna Loa blasted lava jets into the air and down the massive mountain. While officials say there is still no immediate risk to communities on the Big Island of Hawaii, lava has now crept in within 2 miles of the main road connecting the eastern and western halves of the Big Island.
In pictures: Mauna Loa volcano erupts in Hawaii
“The leading edge of the lava flow still has minimal movement … and is about 2 miles from the Daniel K. Inouye Highway,” the Hawaii County Hazards website said Tuesday morning. “It poses no threat to communities at this time.”
Mauna Loa began erupting on Nov. 27, about 13 miles from where Kilauea has been erupting since last year. As residents and tourists rush to witness and honor the rare twin eruptions, officials have enlisted the help of the National Guard.
“Government David Ige and Major General Kenneth Hara activated 20 Hawai’i National Guard service members on Monday and placed them on active duty to assist Hawai’i County with traffic control and other roles in the Mauna Loa eruption,” Hawaii’s said the Emergency Management Agency Monday.
Officials also created a safe viewing spot on a one-way route accessible from the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said.
The rate of lava flow is not steady, so predicting exactly when lava might reach the major highway, also known as Saddle Road, is challenging.
“There are many variables at play and both the direction and timing of the flow’s progression is expected to change over periods of hours to days, making it difficult to estimate when or if the flow will break Daniel K. Inouye Highway. influence,” according to the US Geological Survey. said.
The last time Mauna Loa erupted was in 1984, when the lava reached about 7.5 miles from Hilo, the largest population center on the Big Island.
Whether and when lava from the current eruption reaches the critical highway depends largely on how long Mauna Loa has been erupting, a volcano expert said.
“We don’t know how long this eruption is going to last, and that will determine whether or not the highway is threatened anymore,” said Natalia Deligne, a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Mauna Loa and Kilauea are in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which remains open as it encourages onlookers to safely watch the twin eruptions.
“We are entering week two of the Mauna Loa eruption,” the park posted on Facebook Monday. “Two volcanoes, two eruptions, one park. It was another ‘glowing’ morning today!”
While some see the Big Island’s eruptions as a threat, the eruptions hold incredible spiritual significance for many Native Hawaiians.
Ku’ulei Vickery, a native Hawaiian and a teacher at a nearby public school, was among those who witnessed the glowing orange stream of molten rock on Friday. She performed a traditional Hawaiian chant and left rosemary in her backyard as an offering.
“As a native, I recognize the space I’m in. I recognize the Goddess Pele and the people who came before me, my ancestors,” she said. “You don’t go home empty-handed. So this is what I brought.”
Officials urged anyone wanting to see the twin eruptions to be aware of the potential airborne health risks.
Volcanic emissions include sulfur dioxide, which reacts with other elements in the atmosphere to form fine particles that cause vog, a type of volcanic air pollution known as volcanic smog.
“Vog creates the potential for airborne health hazards for residents and visitors, damages crops and other plants, and affects livestock production,” the USGS said.
The National Park Service says vulnerable groups, which usually include the elderly and children, should exercise caution when viewing the twin eruptions.
“People with pre-existing respiratory conditions are particularly sensitive to poor air quality and should check the air quality warning before visiting,” the park service said.