Lava flows from the eruption of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, are moving toward a main road, adding to local concerns on an island with few major roads.
This is confirmed by the US Geological Survey in its most recent updateissued Thursday night local time, that the lava flows “are traveling 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 travels toward the highway at about 0.025 mph, and as of 1 p.m. local time Thursday, the flow front was about 3.2 miles from the highway, the agency said. most recent update said.
That rate means the flow could reach the highway in about a week, but that timeline could change, according to the update, which notes that “there are many variables at play and both the direction and timing of the progress of flow will be smooth and expected to change in periods of hours to days.”
A blockade of the road would pose problems, especially 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, home to many of the larger resorts. . Hilo is also home to the Hilo Medical Center, which employs 1,600 people, some of whom are from the west side, NBC affiliate KHNL of Hawaii reported.
“We have such limited roads on this island and every time we lose a lane, all that traffic is just diverted somewhere else,” Mike Brown, a Kona resident, told NBC News.
Unless some kind of bypass is built, commuters will have to take coastal routes to and from Kailua-Kona, with an additional drive of at least an hour each way.
Hawaii Governor David Ige has issued an emergency proclamation to allow emergency responders to arrive quickly or restrict access if necessary.
If lava crosses the highway, the Hawaii National Guard can help plan alternatives and establish diversion routes, he said.
Hayley Hina Barcia, who lives in Hilo and has family in Kona, on the west side of the island, said her family depends on the highway to see each other.
“We will have to travel several hours longer to take the south road or the north road.”
Sky Makai, a Hilo resident who works in Kona, said the blockade of the highway would make commuting “much more difficult.”
“I don’t know many people who commute four hours, eight hours a day,” he said. “So just trying to imagine that’s kind of hard.”
Hawaii lava flows generally move slowly enough to avoid, but they can be destructive, according to the USGS: “They can destroy everything in their path, including vegetation and infrastructure — which can cut off access to roads and utilities.”
Lava flows can also cause “severe burns, abrasions and cuts when in contact with unprotected or uncovered skin” and affect air quality by causing high temperatures and limited visibility after heavy rainfall, it states.
Mauna Loa, meaning “long mountain,” occupies half of the island, according to the bureau.
In about half of the previous eruptions, the lava remained in the summit region, which rises about 17,000 meters above the base. In the other cases, the lava overflowed into one of the rift zones, creating streams that covered wide areas of the volcano’s lower slopes.
Before Sunday, geologists had recorded 33 eruptions since 1843, making Mauna Loa among the most active volcanoes in the world. It is one of six volcanoes in Hawaii, according to the USGS.
When the volcano last erupted in 1984, a fast-moving river of lava came within 3 kilometers of Kulani Prison before coming to a halt. according to the National Park Service.
A few days later, another lava flow, which had moved 16 miles in just four days, reached the outskirts of Hilo before shutting down, sparing the city, the agency reported.
Corky Siemaszko and Peter Jeary contributed.