The Big Island of Hawaii gets a warning as the world’s largest active volcano, Mauna Loa, sends signals that it could erupt

HONOLULU– Hawaii officials are warning residents of the Big Island that the world’s largest active volcano, Mauna Loa, is sending signals that it may be erupting.

Scientists say an eruption is not imminent, but they are on high alert due to a recent spike in earthquakes at the volcano’s summit. Experts say it would only take a few hours for the lava to reach the houses closest to the vents of the volcano, which last erupted in 1984.

Hawaii’s Civil Defense Agency is holding meetings across the island to educate residents on how to prepare for a possible emergency. They recommend having a travel bag with food, identifying a place to stay once they leave home, and making a plan to find family members.

“Not to panic everyone, but they should be aware that you live on the slopes of Mauna Loa. There is potential for some sort of lava disaster,” said Talmadge Magno, the Civil Defense Administrator of the Hawaii County.

The volcano makes up 51% of the island of Hawaii’s landmass, so much of the island has the potential to be affected by an eruption, Magno said.

There has been a spurt of development on the Big Island in recent decades – its population has more than doubled to 200,000 today from 92,000 in 1980 – and many new residents were not there when the Mauna Loa last erupted 38 years ago. All the more reason Magno said officials are spreading the word about the science of the volcano and urging people to prepare.

Mauna Loa, rising 4,169 meters above sea level, is the much taller neighbor of the Kilauea volcano, which erupted in a residential area and destroyed 700 homes in 2018. Some of its slopes are much steeper than Kilauea’s, so when it erupts, its lava can flow much faster.

During an eruption in 1950, lava from the mountain traveled 15 miles (24 kilometers) to the ocean in less than three hours.

The Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory, part of the US Geological Survey, said Mauna Loa had been in a state of “increased unrest” since the middle of last month, when the number of earthquakes in the summit went from 10-20 per day to 40-50. per day.

Scientists believe that more earthquakes occur because more magma flows into Mauna Loa’s summit reservoir system from the hot spot beneath the Earth’s surface that feeds molten rock from Hawaii’s volcanoes.

The shaking has decreased in frequency in recent days but could increase again.

More than 220 people attended a community meeting last weekend that county civil defense officials held in Ocean View, a neighborhood that lava could reach within hours if molten rock erupts through rocks. vents on the southwest flank of Mauna Loa.

Bob Werner, an Ocean View resident who did not attend the meeting, said it was wise to be aware of a possible eruption but not fear it. He’s not concerned that the neighborhood will be completely cut off if lava flows down the only road that connects it to the major towns of Kailua-Kona and Hilo, where many people shop.

“The biggest concern is that it will be extremely boring to drive an extra hour or two to get the same thing,” he said.

Ryan Williams, the owner of the Margarita Village bar in Hilo, said the volcanic unrest didn’t worry customers used to the warnings.

There could still be a heightened sense of urgency as officials have held public meetings, urging people to prepare.

“But everything I’ve read or heard, they’re kind of trying to assure people that the conditions haven’t changed,” Williams said. “There is no imminent eruption, but just to be vigilant.”

Magno said his agency is now reaching out to residents because communities closest to the vents likely won’t have enough time to learn how to respond and prepare once the observatory raises its alert level. to “watch”, which means an eruption is imminent.

The current alert level is ‘advisory’, which means the volcano is showing signs of unrest, but there is no indication that an eruption is likely or certain.

Residents of other parts of the island would have more time to react.

Lava from the northeast flank of Mauna Loa could take days or weeks to reach residential communities. This is because the mountain slopes on this side are relatively gentle and the towns are farther from the volcanic vents.

Frank Trusdell, a research geologist with the Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory, said all of Mauna Loa’s eruptions in recorded history have started in its summit crater. About half of them stayed there, while the other half then spewed lava from vents lower in the mountain.

Lava erupting from the summit usually does not travel far enough to reach residential areas.

Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1843. Its last eruption was in 1984 when lava flowed down its eastern flank and stopped 7.2 kilometers from Hilo, the Big Island’s most populous city.

Mauna Loa also has a history of disgorging huge volumes of lava.

During the 1950 eruption, which lasted 23 days, Mauna Loa released 1,000 cubic meters (1,307 cu yd) of lava per second. By contrast, Kilauea released 300 cubic meters (392 cubic yards) per second in 2018.

Earthquakes could continue for some time before any eruption: the increase in seismic activity lasted a year before a 1975 eruption and a year and a half before that of 1984. Alternatively, the tremors could subside and Mauna Loa may not erupt this time.

Trusdell said residents should check his agency’s maps and find out how fast lava can appear in their neighborhood. He also urged people living in any of the short-notice areas to be careful if the top turns red.

“All you have to do is look up there and see the glow. You grab your things, throw them in the car and drive. Go!” he said.

They can always go home afterwards if the lava doesn’t ultimately flow through their neighborhood, he said.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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