Mauna Loa's eruption attracts tourists; residents exercise caution

Mauna Loa's eruption attracts tourists; residents exercise caution

HILO, Hawaii: For the first time in 38 years, Hawaii's largest active volcano has erupted, attracting tourists to a national park, but it is also bringing back painful memories for some residents who have experienced harrowing volcanic experiences in the past.

Officials were initially concerned that lava flowing down the side of the volcano would head toward South Kona, but scientists later assured the public that the eruption migrated to a rift zone on Mauna Loa’s northeast flank and wasn’t threatening any communities.

Still, the uncertainty is somewhat unnerving.

It was just four years ago that Nicole Skilling fled her home near a community where lava destroyed hundreds of homes. "That's why I do have a little bit of PTSD," she says of living near the volcano.

There were no evacuation orders, but some people decided to leave their homes, prompting officials to open shelters. Very few if any stayed in them overnight, and they will close Tuesday.

Lava is flowing "not super fast" at less than 1 mph, Ken Hon, scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory says.

Despite that, some in the area are preparing for unpredictable changes. "We're being makaukau for anything," a resident says, using the Hawaiian word for "ready".

Lava is moving downhill about 6 miles (10 kilometres) from Saddle Road, which connects the east and west sides of the island. The flow was likely to slow down about 4 miles (6.4 kilometres) from the road when it hits flatter ground.

It could hit flatter ground later Tuesday or Wednesday, an official says. A fissure could open up and drain away some of the supply feeding the flow, he says. Schools and businesses remain open, and the governor issues an emergency proclamation.

Lava has cut off power to an observatory on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano. It could move toward the county seat of Hilo, but that could take a week or longer. The eruption is drawing visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. "The viewing has been spectacular" especially before sunrise and at night, a park spokeswoman says.

People living near Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano say they feel safe and in awe of the forces of nature happening in their backyards.

"It's a profound, incredible experience to get to be here while that's happening," says resident Lindsay Cloyd.

The threat of lava never came up when Thomas Schneider was buying his new home in Hilo, but he knew the risks.

“If you were to look around my property you would see lava rock formations sticking out,” he said. “We live on an active volcano, so everywhere is kind of a lava zone.”

Mauna Loa’s last eruption came close to his neighborhood but stopped short.

He said he’s not afraid.

“I’ve been waiting since I moved here to see Mauna Loa go off, it’s supposed to be spectacular,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting that it’s finally erupting.”

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