Kilauea is angry this week – and it’s showing Hawaiians what they have to be afraid of through repeated small eruptions. Yet another fissure opened yesterday in the ancient volcano, spewing out lava and rocks up to 500 feet into the air. The event has some researchers questioning whether Kilauea is about to erupt in a big way, seriously threatening the lives of thousands of Hawaiians in the process.
• This week’s eruption isn’t the first for Kilauea; in fact, most of Hawaii’s volcanoes experience small eruptions from time to time. However, Kilauea has seen more eruptions in recent weeks than in the last decade combined.
• The Hawaii Volcano Observatory warned that the current fissure carries a high risk of “lava fountaining, explosion of spatter bombs hundreds of feet into the air, and several advancing lava flow lobes,” cautioning that events are “moving generally northeast.”
• Officials are evacuating areas to the northeast and southeast. Most forecasts show these to be where events are the most intense. Kilauea’s eruptions have already taken out portions of entire neighborhoods within these areas, destroying at least 37 structures, numerous vehicles, and significantly damaging infrastructure..
• Kilauea has yet to claim any lives in recent days and weeks, but that’s mostly a result of quick action on the part of the HVO and Hawaii Civil Defense Agency. Both agencies are actively participating in exercises to reduce localized populations through evacuations. Officials have asked vacation rentals to close and are making arrangements for residents still remaining in the area.
• President Trump responded by declaring the events a major disaster. Federal assistance and aid agencies, including FEMA, will aid Hawaiians in recovery and survival until the eruptions ease. It isn’t yet known what specific help Trump will provide.
• The most risky zone right now is the Halemaumau crater at the top of Kilauea. Officials are predicting the possibility of a massive eruption from the crater. Such an event could generate ash plumes stretching an incredible 12 miles across.
• The risk of being hit with debris or lava during an eruption is only one small part of the risks Kilauea brings to the table. Smoke inhalation, sulphur dioxide poisoning, and and earthquakes can also occur as eruptions influence the environment. These, of course, carry their own high risks for harm.
• Unfortunately, volcanoes are also notoriously difficult for scientists to predict. Seismic movement is one sign of an impending eruption, but sometimes, isn’t detected until the moment of eruption. Last-minute predictions help, but aren’t a safe bet in every scenario.
• Furthermore, being close to an active volcano carries its own risks, even if conditions seem mild or low-risk. Eruption conditions can change in an instant, going from tame to spilling out thousands of gallons of lava and debris clouds. The biggest concern is that citizens might not have enough time to escape.
• If you’re living in the area, HVO and the HCDA recommend you follow local alerts for more information. If you’re in an evacuation zone, heed all warnings and do not resist leaving. Active eruption could leave you in extreme danger with little time to respond.