Mauna Loa eruption: Molten lava could invade main highway on Hawaii’s Big Island within hours

A stream of molten lava is threatening the main highway on Hawaii’s Big Island after the Mauna Loa volcano erupted for the first time in nearly four decades earlier this week.

As of Wednesday morning, the lava flow eminating from the Mauna Loa eruption was fewer than five miles away from the highway known as Saddle Road that runs across almost the entire length of the island.

“It does not pose a threat to any communities at this time,” the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency wrote on its website on Wednesday morning of the lava flow. “But parking along the highway is prohibited between mile markers 16 to 31, and any vehicles left there could be towed.”

Mauna Loa, at nearly 14,000 feat above sea level, is the world’s largest active volcano. It last erupted in 1984, with the eruption lasting nearly three weeks but causing no major damage to the built environment.

This eruption similarly does not at this time appear to pose any immediate threats to peoples’ homes, but the lava flow is threatening to disrupt transportation patterns on the Big Island and may have a spate of environmental impacts. Health officials have urged children, the elderly, and people with respiratory conditions to cut down on their outdoor activities in the coming days as the air quality suffers due to the presence of volcanic ash and other substances like fine ash.

Given the unpredictability of volcanic eruptions, the state’s Emergency Management Agency has activated its emergency operations center and Gov David Ige has signed an emergency proclamation to funnel resources into the state’s response to the situation.

Lava flows in particular can quickly change course during an eruption as Hawaii has experienced in the past. The lava flow towards the highway, traveling at around one mile per hour, has already crossed a private road and severed access to a climate monitoring station.

The eruption of Mauna Loa is not the only volcanic eruption that the state is dealing with this week. The nearby volcano Kilauea has been erupting since last year in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

The state is not currently pushing residents near the site of the eruption to evacuate their homes, though it could conceivably re-open several emergency shelter sites in the area should the need arise in the coming days as officials continue to monitor the path of various lava flows and environmental impacts.