Late on Sunday night (November 27), Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano on Earth, erupted for the first time in 38 years, unleashing a plume of volcanic ash and debris that covered the lush landscape of Hawaii in a blanket of grey.
At first, the lava remained contained within the caldera. Over time, however, the molten rock began to spill from a fissure in the mouth of Mauna Loa, locals and visitors alike flocking to its base to get a rare glimpse of the glowing red liquid.
A main road linking the east and west coasts of the Big Island has become an impromptu tourist attraction, with thousands of onlookers unthinkingly causing a major traffic jam on the Hawaiian highway. “We just wanted … to come see this as close as we could get. And it is so bright, it just blows my mind,” Gordon Brown, a tourist from California, told the New York Post.
“It’s a thrill,” said Hawaii local Kathryn Tarananda. “We’re out in the middle of raw nature. It’s awe-inspiring that we live in this place. I feel really, really fortunate to be an islander.”
Volcano Experts Predict Mauna Loa Lava Could Reach Major Highway
While the pull of the mammoth volcano Mauna Loa and her river of lava is undeniable, onlookers must exercise caution. Though not a certainty, the road could soon be covered in the 2,000-degree liquid. Currently making its slow descent down the slope of Mauna Loa, the lava was about 6 miles from the highway as of this morning.
Should the road connecting the cities of Hilo and Kailua-Kona become impassable, travelers will have to drive along the coast, causing the trip to jump from just an hour and a half to several hours.
According to Ken Hon, lead scientist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the lava could theoretically reach the road in as little as two days. In reality, however, it will likely take far longer – if it happens at all. “As the lava flow spreads out, it will probably interfere with its own progress,” he said.
The volcanic eruption initially caused concern among local communities. As volcanic eruptions of the past have proven, the river of lava pouring from Mauna Loa is more than capable of causing major destruction. And unfortunately, there’s no way to redirect the red-hot flood, which could mean trouble for the major road in its path.
“There is no physical or technological way to change the course of where the lava flows,” said Governor David Ige, who was left with a broken community after Kilauea unleashed a sea of lava on homes, farms, and roads, across the island. “As we saw in that event, the power of Mother Nature and Madam Pele (the goddess of volcanoes and fire) overwhelms anything that we can do.”