President Donald Trump has issued a presidential disaster declaration for Hawaii’s Big Island as the state copes with Kilauea volcano’s eruption.
Hawaii Governor David Ige said on Friday the declaration means federal assistance will be available as the state covers costs associated with damaged roads, public parks, schools and water pipes. The funds, approved one day after Ige requested them, will also cover costs for geologists and security personnel at roadblocks.
Lava flows from Kilauea volcano have destroyed 36 structures, including 27 homes, as the state suffers from declining tourism despite assurances that most of its islands remain safe. The lava flowing from 15 fissures now covers more than 117 acres.
On Friday, Hawaii County Civil Defense warned residents of lower Puna to prepare to evacuate on short notice, in the event of possible gas emissions and volcanic eruption.
Geologists say conditions are prime for a major eruption within hours or days. Kilauea’s lava lake is on track to recede to groundwater levels at any time over the weekend, triggering ‘violent steam-driven blasts’, according to the US Geological Survey.
Incredible photos from an overflight earlier this week show huge columns of gas venting as the lava advances inexorably, destroying luxurious homes in its path.
The lava flowing from 15 fissures now covers more than 117 acres and has destroyed a total of 36 structures
Incredible photos from an overflight show the lava advancing inexorably near Leilani Avenue and Luana Street
The thirteenth Leilani eruption pushed the hot rock over roads and into expensive mansions, destroying them
Kilauea volcano sends 2,200-degree lava bursting through cracks into people’s backyards in Leilani Estates neighborhood
Meanwhile, warnings that Kilauea could shoot boulders and ash out of its summit crater are prompting people to rethink their plans to visit the Big Island.
But most of the rest of the island is free of volcanic hazards, and local tourism officials are hoping travelers will recognize the Big Island is ready to welcome them.
Rachel Smigelski-Theiss is among those who have shifted gears. She had intended to visit Kilauea’s summit with her husband and 5-year-old daughter and stay in Volcano, a town a few miles from the crater. Now they’ve cancelled their trip. She’s worried potential flight disruptions would strand them on the island.
‘My equivalent of this – and I’m from South Florida where we have hurricanes – is driving quite literally into a hurricane,’ she said.
Hawaii officials have had a busy month pleading with travelers to keep their plans even as dramatic images of natural disasters afflicting the islands have bombarded televisions and social media feeds.
In April, floods on Kauai Island made travelers nervous. Then last week, it was Kilauea volcano sending 2,200-degree lava bursting through cracks into people’s backyards in the Leilani Estates neighborhood. Then as Kilauea’s magma shifted underground, a magnitude-6.9 earthquake rocked the Big Island.
The lava flow is seen earlier this week crossing Leilani Avenue (running top left to bottom right) and destroying homes
More than a dozen fissures oozing lava have opened in the ground in the past week, destroying 36 structures
A home ignites as lava passing over Leilani Avenue hits two single-family homes and creeps toward another
A local state of emergency forced mandatory evacuation of about 1,700 citizens from their nearby homes
The lava flow creeps across the well-groomed yard of this home on Luana Street as seen from an overflight
Since the quake, there have been frequent aftershocks. More than a dozen fissures oozing lava have opened in the ground. Adding to the distress, of the 36 structures destroyed, 26 were homes.
And now, scientists are warning that an explosive eruption may occur at the summit crater within weeks.
Tina Neal, the scientist-in-charge of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory, said geologists don’t expect the summit eruption to be life-threatening so long as people stay out of the national park. Volcano and other nearby communities may be showered by pea-sized fragments or dusted with nontoxic ash but they aren’t expected to get hit by large boulders, she said.
Robert Hughes, the owner of Aloha Junction Bed and Breakfast in Volcano, said he’s had ‘tons’ of cancellations since Wednesday when geologists first warned of the explosive eruption.
But Hughes, a 45-year resident of the village of some 2,500 people, suspects he’ll soon hear from adventurers and photographers who want to see the eruption up close.
‘I’m not too worried about it because I’ve lived here so long and I’ve seen it go through lots of different episodes,’ Hughes said.
Fissures continue to vent an extraordinary amount of toxic gases, creating hazardous breathing conditions in the immediate and downwind areas, Pahoa on Friday. Geologist warn that conditions are prime for a major eruption
Hannique Ruder, a 65-year-old resident living in the Leilani Estates subdivision, stands on a mound of hardened lava on Friday
Ruder walks past the mound of hardened lava while surveying the neighborhood on Friday near Pahoa, Hawaii
The town, which is nestled in a lush rainforest a few miles from the crater, is a popular overnight spot for park visitors.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s decision to close Friday due to the risk of an explosive eruption will discourage travelers, said Janet Coney, the office manager at Kilauea Lodge, an inn in Volcano.
The lodge, which has 12 rooms and 4 cottages, has had a handful of cancellations. Coney is anticipating more depending on what happens.
There are also further potential risks where lava has been erupting 25 miles east of the crater in Leilani Estates. Scientists said the molten rock there could start moving faster if fresher, hotter magma emerges from the ground.
Neal said a chemical analysis of the lava that’s erupted since last week indicated it’s from magma that had been stored in the ground since a 1955 eruption. It’s been sluggish and somewhat cooler as a result, she said.
But Kilauea could release hotter, faster-moving and more voluminous lava because magma has moving into the area from further up the volcano, she said.
An ash plume rises from the Overlook Vent in Halema’uma’u crater in Hawaii on Friday as the lava lake recedes
Kilauea’s lava lake is on track to recede to groundwater levels sometime over the weekend, triggering ‘violent steam-driven blasts’, according to this projection issued by the US Geological Service
A geologist on inspects a crack that widened considerably in the past day on Old Kalapana Road on Thursday
A home destroyed the recent lava flow is seen in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii on Friday
A local resident stands on an old lava flow while taking pictures of a plume of volcanic gas mixed with smoke from fires caused by lava rising from the vicinity of the Leilani Estates neighborhood on Thursday
The CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the agency that markets Hawaii to the world, said Kilauea is being monitored around the clock to provide the public with the best information. But George Szigeti noted that the Big Island is ‘immense’ and there are large parts of the island unaffected by the volcano.
Like the town of Kamuela which is home to vast cattle ranches and Hawaii’s own cowboys, called paniolo. The coffee farms on the Kona side of the island, which is more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) away from where lava is erupting. There’s also the night sky visible from the 13,803-foot (4207-meter) summit of Mauna Kea, the island’s tallest peak and the location of some of the world’s most advanced telescopes.
Ross Birch, the executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said officials ‘walk the fine line.’
‘We know what people are going through in Leilani Estates. And we don’t want to seem callous and inconsiderate in our messaging and our promotion of the island,’ he said. At the same time, tourism is the island’s biggest industry and people’s livelihoods are dependent on visitors coming, he said.
‘We want to make sure that everybody is still working and people have jobs to go back to,’ Birch said.