Safety concerns rise as thousands flock to see lava flow - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Safety concerns rise as thousands flock to see lava flow

(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)

Thousands are making their way to Kilauea on Hawai'i Island for an incredible oceanside show as the latest lava flow enters the sea.

"It's awesome. It's amazing. The lava fields are really neat and just being able to experience the lava flow down into the water," described visitor Matthew Bortolin. 

It took just two months for the flow that began on Pu'u 'O'o in May to travel downslope to the water. 

It's an incredible sight, even if it's not all that uncommon here in Hawai'i -- USGS scientists say the last ocean entry was in August 2013 -- but officials say there some significant hazards they need the public to be aware of as more and more people head to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park to see it for themselves.

"Active lava is really one of those bucket list type things. People want to see active lava flows and with the National Park, part of our mission is to provide safe access to active volcanism, and with this current eruption we're able to do that," said Jessica Ferracane, a spokesperson with the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.  

Officials say 4,000 - 5,000 visitors pass through on a busy day. At least 1,000 of them are making the nearly 9 mile trek round trip on bike or by foot to Kamokuna -- the area where the lava flow is entering the ocean. 

"It was really nice to have the bikes actually, and it was beautiful to witness Madame Pele in action," said David Kainalu Yonan. 

Local tour companies are busier than ever trying to keep people engaged and educated. 

"We offer boat tours to see the lava from the sea, also the hiking tours, bike tours, bike rentals -- to give people the option to go view the lava in every shape and form. It's a cultural tour and the lava is the draw. It's how we get people so we can share our history because if you look out here it's all black lava, but under that black lava is a lot of culture," said Ikaika Marzo, co-owner Kalapana Cultural Tours. 

There are few safety boundaries and park ranger patrols are limited, so anyone who heads this way is doing so at their own risk. 

Since "61g", as its informally being called, crossed the Chain of Craters Road and entered the ocean on July 26, social media has been flooded with some daring attempts to get close to the amazing display --  but officials warn its as dangerous as it is beautiful. 

"Hot flowing lava is like a hot stove. Your instincts are not to pet the lava, not to touch that hot stove. Most people aren't going up and putting their hand on it. It kind of creates its own safety shield," Ferracane said. 

Officials say there are still serious concerns. Lava entering the sea builds a platform of new land known as a lava delta. 

"Lava deltas are deceptively stable looking. You see it and think, 'Gosh, that's the place I need to be to see lava up close and personal', but the near lava is hiding a foundation of rubble that is extremely unstable," explained Janet Babb, a spokesperson with USGS Hawai'i Volcano Observatory.

Experts say when the hot lava and cool sea water interact it creates steam explosions laced with hydrochloric acid and pieces of volcanic glass. 

"We talk about concerns for people on shore, but it's equally hazardous for people on the water because if a delta collapses and an explosion occurs all that debris is going to be blown out in all directions," said Babb.  

Officials are asking any one heading to the lava flow to prepare with hiking shoes, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and gloves, in case you take an accidental spill. They say falling on the fresh flow is like landing on shards of glass. They're also recommending individuals bring at least a gallon of drinking water. 

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