HONOLULU (AP) — The world’s largest active volcano Monday’s eruption did not immediately threaten communities on Hawaii’s Big Island, but officials warned residents to prepare for the worst.
Many current residents did not live there when Mauna Loa erupted 38 years ago. The U.S. Geological Survey warned about 200,000 people on the Big Island that an eruption “could be very dynamic, and the location and progression of the lava flow could change rapidly.”
Ken Hahn, scientist-in-charge of the Hawaii Volcanology Observatory, said the eruption began Sunday night, followed by large-scale earthquakes.
The Big Island has seen a growth spurt in recent decades — its population has doubled from 92,000 in 1980.
Most of the island’s population lives west of the volcano in the city of Kailua-Kona, which has about 23,000 people, and east of Hilo, which has about 45,000. Officials were most concerned about several subdivisions about 30 miles south of the volcano, home to about 5,000 people.
A Time Lapse Video A volcano that erupted overnight showed the area burning, moving like waves in the ocean.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the eruption migrated into a fissure zone — where the rock is cracked and relatively weak — making it easier for magma to emerge.
An eruption from the zone could send lava toward Hilo or other cities in East Hawaii, but it could take weeks or months for the lava to reach populated areas.
“We don’t want to try and guess the volcano,” Hahn said. “We have to let it show what it’s going to do, and then let people know what’s going on as soon as possible.”
Hawaii County Civil Defense announced they had opened shelters because people were reportedly evacuating the beach on their own.
The average Mauna Loa eruption is not usually long, lasting about two weeks, Hon.
“Typically, Mauna Loa eruptions start with loud noises first,” Hahn said. “After a few days, it starts to calm down a little bit.”
The USGS warned residents at risk from Mauna Loa lava to review their eruption preparations. Scientists were alert Due to recent earthquakes at the top 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 cm) of ash could accumulate in some areas.
Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii, the southernmost island of the Hawaiian archipelago.
Mauna Loa, at 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above sea level, is Kilauea’s much larger neighbor, which erupted in a residential area in 2018, destroying 700 homes. Some of its slopes are steeper than Kilauea’s, so the lava flows more. Faster when it explodes.
During the 1950 eruption, the mountain’s lava traveled 15 miles (24 kilometers) to the sea in less than three hours.
Tourism is Hawaii’s economic engine but Roth predicted some problems for vacationers during the eruption.
“It’s going to be fantastic where it is, but the chances of it actually interfering with the viewer’s field — very, very low,” he said.
For some, the eruption may shorten some travel time, even if the volcanic smoke is heavy due to high sulfur-dioxide emissions.
“But the good thing is, you don’t have to go from Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see an eruption anymore,” Roth said. “You can look out your window at night and you can see Mauna Loa erupting.”
Julia Neal, owner of Pahala Garden Cottages, says the eruption brings some relief after several preparedness meetings and is very surprised by 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.”
Some of the prospective guests from the American mainland called Neil “asking me to make a prediction, and I can’t,” he said. “So I said, hold on.”
Associated Press writers Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska contributed to this report.