HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When a 6.9-magnitude earthquake rocked the east side of the Big Island on May 4, 2018, Jessica Ferracane was near its epicenter: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The park's public affairs specialist remembers it vividly.
"That was such a huge jolt, and then there was a lot of rockfall," Ferracane said. "At that moment, I knew something was happening and certainly the park management did."
What she didn't know: This was just the beginning of one of the most destructive eruptions at Kilauea in modern U.S. history — and the start of the park's longest closure in its more than 100-year history.
"It ended up being closed for 134 days," Ferracane said. "Nobody knew it would be that long."
Ferracane, a Hawaii native who’s been with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for about eight years, is no stranger to eruptions. But last year’s eruption at Kilauea’s lower east rift zone was unlike anything she’s ever dealt with.
It started with the park's temporary, one-day closure the day the earthquake happened. But safety hazards brought on by the ongoing eruption prompted a long-term closure starting May 11.
For Ferracane, the decision to keep the park closed for so long was "unnerving," especially since that part of the park was the most visited in Hawaii.
"We're used to opening Mauna Loa and Kilauea eruptions so the public can see it. That's what we want to share with the world," Ferracane said. "And to actually have to close it is a very unusual position to be in."
Months later, after eruptive activity finally quieted, park officials decided to reopen most of the park on Sept. 22.
"It was really just a joyous, wonderful day for everybody," Ferracane said.
Not only was it a great feeling to see the smiles on visitors' faces but also on the faces of park staff and volunteers who were able to get back to work.
“And to come back to a newly renovated park, where there’s so many changes to the summit crater, Halemaumau on Kilauea ― it’s staggering, still, months later,” Ferracane said.
Before the eruption, Halemaumau Crater was only 280 feet deep. But after numerous collapse events, the crater deepened dramatically to 1,600 feet.
“It’s just really mind-boggling to see that, where before it’s just this shallow, kind of a wide crater,” Ferracane said. “Now we have a completely different feature happening here at the summit.”
Many regular visitors who come to the park every year have also been blown away by the changes they've seen post-eruption, she said.
Some popular spots still remain closed, however. Those include the Jaggar Museum ― which is right on the edge of the collapsing crater ― the Kilauea Iki trail and Nahuku, also commonly known as the Thurston Lava Tube.
Most of these areas suffered extensive damage during the eruption and still aren't ready to be reopened to the public yet.
But most of the park is still open for business, so Ferracane still urges the public to come visit. Visitation has been down even after the park reopened because many people don't even realize it had reopened.
“We definitely want people to realize the park is open,” Ferracane said.
“Come and visit us. We don’t know what’s going to happen next with Kilauea, and certainly not Mauna Loa, so it’s really an exciting time to visit Hawaii Volcanoes.”