Hawaii Army National Guard provides critical support as Mauna Loa lava nears highway

Hawaii Army National Guard provides critical support at Mauna Loa viewing area
Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 5:30 PM HST
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HILO (HawaiiNewsNow) - As Mauna Loa’s eruption goes into its second week and the lava flow creeps closer to Daniel K. Inouye Highway, 20 members of the Hawaii Army National Guard started their mission in time for a possible weekend rush.

Department of Defense Hawaii Adjutant General Ken Hara met with the soldiers before they started their mission on Tuesday, thanking 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.

“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 General Hara. “Our military skill sets carry over to our state mission and we serve our community. The Hawaii National Guard is your National Guard.”

Hawaii county officials worked with Pohakuloa Training Area commander Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Cronin to use Old Saddle Road as an alternative route to allow observers to safely stop and view the eruption and lava field. The designated area allows traffic to keep moving on Daniel K. Inouye Highway, known locally as Saddle Road.

Since it opened, 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 2.5 miles of a 6.5 mile stretch of the lava viewing area on Old Saddle Road, from Gil Kahele Recreational Park to Pu’u Huluhulu 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 start on Tuesday, 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 if you can, consider rescheduling your visit.

“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.