Thousands of awestruck spectators flocked to watch the world’s largest volcano in Hawaii ooze rivers of incandescent lava.
Long Mountain it awoke from its 38-year slumber on Sunday, causing volcanic ash and debris to fall from the sky.
A major highway connecting cities on the Big Island’s east and west coasts became a makeshift vantage point, with thousands of cars blocking the highway near Volcanoes National Park.
Anne Andersen left her night shift as a nurse to attend the performance on Wednesday, fearing the road would soon be closed by overflowing lava.
“It’s Mother Nature showing us her face,” he said, as the volcano belching gas on the horizon. “It’s pretty exciting.”
Gordon Brown, a visitor to Loomis, California, could see the bright orange lava from the bedroom of his rented house. So he went out for a closer look with his wife.
“We just…wanted to come see him as close as possible. And it’s so brilliant, it drives me crazy,” Brown said.
Is it safe to look at Mauna Loa?
From the Saddle Road vantage point, the smell of volcanic gases and sulfur was thick in the air as people watched the large lava flow approaching.
After reaching about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the highwayit wasn’t clear when, or if, it would cover the road, which crosses ancient lava flows.
The road bisects the island and connects the cities of Hilo and Kailua-Kona. People traveling between them should take a longer coastal route if Saddle Road becomes impassable, adding several hours of driving.
Ken Hon, lead scientist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said at the current rate, the time before lava hits the road is two days, but it will likely take longer.
“As the lava flow spreads out, it will likely interfere with one’s progress,” Hon said.
Tourists and locals united in awe
Abel Brown, a visitor to Las Vegas, was impressed by the natural forces on display. He’d planned to take a helicopter ride up close later in the day, but not too close.
“There’s a lot of fear and trepidation if you really get close to it,” Brown said. “The closer you get, the more powerful it is and the scarier it is.”
The closer you get, the more powerful it is and the scarier it is.
Long Mountain last erupted in 1984. The current eruption is its 34th since written records began in 1843.
Its smaller neighbor, Kilauea, has been erupting since September 2021, so visitors to the national park were able to witness the rare sight of two simultaneous eruptive events: the glow of the Kilauea lava lake and lava from a fissure in Mauna Loa.
Kathryn Tarananda, 66, of Waimea set two alarms to make sure she didn’t oversleep and didn’t miss a chance to see the sunrise against the backdrop of eruptions on Mauna Loa.
“It’s a thrill,” he said. “We are in the middle of untouched nature. It’s impressive that we live in this place. … I feel really, really lucky to be an Islander.
How dangerous is the Mauna Loa eruption?
Officials were initially concerned that lava flowing down Mauna Loa would head towards the community of South Kona, but scientists later assured the public that the eruption had migrated to a rift area on the northeast flank of the Mauna Loa. volcano and was not threatening the communities.
Governor David Ige issued an emergency announcement to allow first responders to arrive quickly or limit access as needed.
Ige, who has dealt with multiple volcanic eruptions during his eight years as governor, said it was impossible to reroute Mauna Loa’s molten rock as it made its way onto the highway.
“There is no physical or technological way to change the course of the lava flow,” Ige said at a news conference. He recalls wishing this could be done in 2018, when Kilauea sent lava pouring over homes, farms and roads.
“But as we saw in that event, the power of Mother Nature and Madam Pele overwhelms everything we can do,” Ige said, referring to the Hawaiian deity of volcanoes and fire.
Ige said if lava crosses the highway, the Hawaii National Guard could help plan alternatives and try to create bypass routes.
What is the climate impact of the Mauna Loa eruption?
Lava crossed the access road to the Mauna Loa Observatory Monday night and cut power to the facility, Hon said.
It is the world’s foremost station that measures the heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The federal government is looking for a temporary alternate site on the Hawaiian island and is considering flying a generator to the observatory to recover its energy so it can resume measurements.
Meanwhile, scientists are trying to measure the gas emitted by the eruption.