Hawaii National Guard members activated as Mauna Loa lava flow nears highway

Hawaii Army National Guard provides support as Mauna Loa lava nears highway
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 8:57 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2022 at 4:29 AM HST

HILO (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the Mauna Loa eruption enters its second week, officials are offering new reassurance to downslope communities as they also seek to underscore a message of safety to spectators.

The state activated 20 Hawaii Army National Guard members to help with traffic control amid concerns about congestion and safety.

“Mayor Roth had significant concerns with the safety along the highway, people are parking, some are driving without their lights on so they could get better shots, it’s really dangerous, speeding, some slowing down, pedestrians on the road,” said Department of Defense Hawaii Adjutant General Ken Hara, who met with the soldiers Tuesday morning, before they deployed to the base camp at Pohakuloa Training Area.

Hara thanked them for volunteering to support the county’s safety plans. Many were young guard members who are part of the local community.

“Being on the road on this first mission, it’s cool,” said guard member Kaipo Galeon, 18.

“It’s important to join because I wanted to help people actually,” said guard member Micah Banasiha, 18.

Hawaii county officials say they’re seeing an average of 3,500 cars each day and having military reinforcements will ensure the safety of thousands of people who visit the area.

“What we’re looking for out here is aloha ambassadors. They’re going to keep traffic moving. We also have a secondary source of contracted security,” said Maurice Messina, director of Hawaii County Parks and Recreation.

The National Guard team will man checkpoints on the first two miles of a 6.5-mile stretch of the lava viewing area on Old Saddle Road, from Gil Kahele Recreational Park to the Puu Hulu Hulu lot. They’ll be managing traffic and helping set up barriers if and when the lava reaches Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

It was a dreary first day for the group, with rainy and windy weather conditions and heavy cloud cover obscuring observers’ view of Mauna Loa and the lava flow during most of the day. County officials are advising people to be careful when traveling in the rain and the dark, and consider rescheduling your visit during inclement weather.

“With the forecast for thunder showers, we know that DKI is going to have no visibility so we put that message out for folks to understand there is a lower speed limit, but still to be cautious up there. And perhaps, maybe today’s not the day to go across DKI you don’t need to maybe wait for another day,” Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno.

The National Guard mission is for 31 days so the group will spend the holidays at the base camp, but if the eruption continues that could get extended.

Meantime, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge Ken Hon said Monday that the lava flow has “slowed down considerably” ― moving at about 20 feet per hour ― and is about 2.15 miles from Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

Also Monday, officials reiterated there is no direct threat to downslope communities.

“With the lava being where it’s at, we feel pretty certain that the lava won’t impact any populated areas,” Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said.

Roth said a bigger concern is people crossing lava fields in the dark hoping to get a closer view of the eruption.

“There’s a lot of (moving) pieces. How fast it’s moving. How close it’s gonna come to the highway. How long it will take if there’s any dangers that we’re seeing,” Roth said, during a news conference. “And now we have another danger: We have to factor in if people are going out to that field that may close the highway sooner.

ERUPTION LIVE CAM:

Also Monday, scientists offered new insight on the flow:

  • Lava is erupting at an estimated rate of 100 to 150 cubic yards per second.
  • The leading flow is about 15 feet thick and up to 30 feet at the center.

“There’s no slowing of material coming down the channel and feeding that front,” Hon said.

“The front just moves very slowly because the material is very viscous and the ground is very flat.”

Activity as a whole has stabilized over the last several days, prompting the USGS to lower its aviation color code from red to orange. A temporary flight restriction is still in effect, however.

As the eruption continues, thousands are flocking to see the spectacular show.

CONTINUING COVERAGE:

The Mauna Loa eruption started Nov. 27 after months of elevated earthquake activity.

The 13,681-foot Mauna Loa volcano had been rumbling more in the last several months, prompting many to believe an eruption was imminent.

The last time Mauna Loa erupted was in 1984.

For details on volcano hazard zones, click here.

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This is a developing story. Check back for updates.