Mauna Loa erupts in Hawaii, officials warn people to prepare | National

HONOLULU (AP) — The world’s largest active volcano The eruption occurred on Monday and did not immediately threaten communities on Hawaii’s Big Island, but officials warned residents to be prepared for the worst.

Many current residents did not live there when Mauna Loa last erupted 38 years ago. The U.S. Geological Survey warned about 200,000 people on the Big Island that the eruption “may be very dynamic, and the location and advance of lava flows may change rapidly.”

The eruption began late Sunday night after a series of fairly strong earthquakes, said Ken Hon, chief scientist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The Big Island has seen a surge in development in recent decades, with its population more than doubling from 92,000 in 1980.

Most of the people on the island live in the town of Kailua-Kona to the west of the volcano, which has about 23,000 people, and Hilo to the east, which has about 45,000. Officials were most concerned about several subdivisions about 30 miles south of the volcano, where about 5000 people live.

A time-lapse video An eruption at night showed lava lighting up one area, moving across it like waves in the ocean.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the eruption moved into a rift zone — a place where rock is cracked and relatively weak, making it easier for magma to escape.

An eruption from this area could send lava toward Hilo County or other cities in eastern Hawaii, but it could take weeks or months for the lava to reach populated areas.

“We don’t want to try to guess the volcano,” Hohn said. “We have to let him show us what he’s going to do and then let people know what’s going on as soon as possible.”

The Hawaii County Civil Defense announced that it had opened shelters because it had received reports of self-initiated evacuations from the coast.

Mauna Loa’s average eruption is usually short and lasts a couple of weeks, Hon said.

“Typically, the eruption of Mauna Loa starts with the strongest volume,” Hon said. “After a few days it starts to calm down a bit.”

The USGS has warned residents threatened by Mauna Loa lava flows to reconsider their preparations for the eruption. Scientists were alert due to a recent spate of earthquakes at the summit of the volcano, which last erupted in 1984.

Parts of the Big Island were under an ash advisory issued by the National Weather Service in Honolulu, which said up to a quarter inch (0.6 centimeter) of ash could accumulate in some areas.

Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes that together make up the Big Island of Hawaii, which is the southernmost island of the Hawaiian archipelago.

Mauna Loa, which rises 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above sea level, is Kilauea’s much larger neighbor, which erupted in a residential area and destroyed 700 homes in 2018. Some of its slopes are much steeper than those of Kilauea, so the lava can flow much faster when it erupts.

During the 1950 eruption, the mountain’s lava flew 15 miles (24 kilometers) toward the ocean in less than three hours.

Tourism is Hawaii’s economic engine, but Roth predicted few problems for those on vacation during the eruption.

“It will be exciting where it is, but the chances of it actually disrupting the visitor industry are very, very small,” he said.

For some, the eruption may cut some travel time, even if there will be more volcanic smog caused by higher sulfur dioxide emissions.

“But the good thing is that you no longer have to drive from Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see an eruption,” Roth said. “You can just look out your window at night and you can see Mauna Loa erupting.”

Julia Neal, owner of Pahala Plantation Cottages, said the eruption brought some relief after many preparation meetings and is excited to see what the volcano will do.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “It’s kind of a relief that it’s happening, and we’re not waiting for it to happen.”

Several prospective guests from the continental U.S. have called Neal, “asking me to make a prediction, which I can’t do,” she said. “So, I said, just stand by.”

Associated Press writers Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska contributed to this report.

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