Visitors are rushing to catch a glimpse of two ongoing eruptions occurring on the Big Island of Hawaii: the world’s largest active volcano, Mauna Loa, started erupting late Sunday night, and Kilauea, which has been erupting for months. Both volcanoes sit inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which remain open to visitors for this time, with some road and hiking trails closed due to volcanic hazards. Beyond those closures, though, people can safely view both eruptions inside the park.
At the start of the eruption, the park closed Mauna Loa Road from the gate at Kīpukapuaulu Monday morning to vehicles. The summit, cabins and high-elevation areas of Mauna Loa have been closed since early October when the volcano began to show signs of unrest and increased seismicity. In addition, Mauna Loa Observatory Road outside of the park is also closed to the public. That road, which provides access to scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory, became inundated by lava late Monday night.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is keeping close watch on Mauna Loa in tandem with our colleagues at USGS and Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense,” said Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Superintendent, Rhonda Loh. “The park is currently open, but visitors should be prepared and stay informed,” Loh said.
Before heading to the park, visitors are urged to check the park website for closure updates, safety alerts, air quality and other information including links to the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory webcams and eruption updates.
Today, lava was erupting from a number of fissures along the northeast rift zone of the giant volcano. This lava was pouring down the slopes of the volcano towards the “saddle” of the island, in between the area of Mauna Loa volcano to the south and Mauna Kea volcano to the north. Along this saddle is a road known as the Daniel K. Inouye Highway; it is also referred to as simply “Saddle Road.” Lava is approaching the highway and as of publication time of this report, was only 5 miles away.
Many people are driving up Saddle Road to view the fissures and lava flows coming down the slopes of the volcano. Hawaii County Civil Defense warns, “For those traveling Saddle Road /Daniel K. Inouye Highway, parking along the highway is unsafe and prohibited. Hawaii Police Department report that vehicles that park along Saddle Road /Daniel K. Inouye Highway between the 16 and 31 Mile Markers will be subject to citation and will be towed. ”
The Saddle Road is the main east/west highway on the Big Island of Hawaii. If it becomes inundated by lava, people traveling around the island will need to take roads that stretch around the perimeter of the island, potentially adding significant travel times to those going between the Kona and Hilo sides of the island.