(CNN) — Hawaii officials activated the National Guard to prepare for a response to the eruption of Mauna Loa, whose lava has been flowing for days along a key state highway.
Officials said the lava that has been pouring from the volcano for the past week does not pose a threat to communities or property. Still, the eruption of the world’s largest active volcano has residents and officials on edge as molten rock Daniel K. Inouye Highway, threatening to close at least part of the route connecting the east and west sides of the Big Island.
“Governor David Ige and Gen. Kenneth Hara on Monday activated 20 Hawaii National Guard service members and placed them on active duty to assist Hawaii County with traffic control and other tasks in the wake of the Mauna Loa eruption. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has said in the statement.
As of Monday, the lava was about 3.5 kilometers from the highway, known locally as Saddle Road, according to the US Geological Survey. And the speed at which the lava moves was unpredictable, making it difficult for experts to predict what day it hit the road or if it could hit the road at all.
“There are many variables at play and both the direction and timing of the flow are expected to change over a period of hours to days, making it difficult to predict when the flow will affect the Daniel K. Inoue Expressway,” the geologist said. study.
According to the Geological Survey, lava moved towards the highway at a speed of 7.5 meters per hour in the past days, which was more than 20 meters per hour over the weekend. “Although the rate of advance has slowed … lava flows remain active with a continuous supply from the Fissure 3 vent.”
Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, when its lava reached only 7 kilometers from Hilo, the largest population center on the Big Island. According to the Geological Survey, the volcano covers half of the Hawaiian Islands, at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters above sea level.
Mauna Loa erupted again on November 27, joining nearby Kilauea, which has been erupting since the previous year. Both volcanoes are located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which remains open and urges spectators to safely view the simultaneous eruptions.
“We are entering the second week of the Mauna Loa eruption. Two volcanoes, two eruptions, one park. Today was another “fantastic” morning!” Park said in an online post on Monday.
The duration of the eruption is unknown.
As officials work to determine whether lava flows will reach the main highway, a volcanologist said the duration of the eruption will play a role in what happens.
“We don’t know how long this eruption will last and that will determine whether the road is at greater risk,” said Natalia Deligne, a volcanologist with the US Geological Survey. at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Ige told CNN on Saturday that closing the highway would add hours to commute for residents, causing “immense inconvenience.”
Nevertheless, scores of people turned out to witness the rare sight of two volcanoes erupting just 34 kilometers apart.
For many Native Hawaiians, the eruption of volcanoes has incredible spiritual significance.
On Friday, Ku’uli Vikri, a native Hawaiian and teacher at a nearby public school, was among those who witnessed the flow of bright orange molten rock. She sang a traditional Hawaiian chant and left rosemary grown in her backyard as an offering.
“As a native, I am acknowledging the place I am in. I am recognizing the goddess Pele and the people who came before me, my ancestors. “You don’t go home empty-handed. That’s why I brought Am.”
The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said that to accommodate the many residents and tourists brought by the volcano’s eruption, officials have opened the Daniel K. Inouye built a secure observation point on a one-way route accessible via the highway.
Officials also urged the public to be alert to the potential hazards that affect air quality from the explosions.
Volcanic emissions include sulfur dioxide, which reacts with other elements in the atmosphere and can initiate the formation of fine particles that cause ‘vog’, a type of volcanic air pollution known as volcanic smog. Is.
According to the USGS, “‘vog’ poses potential airborne health hazards to residents and visitors, damages agricultural crops and other plants, and affects livestock operations.”
The National Park Service urges vulnerable groups, which typically include the elderly and children, to exercise caution when watching an eruption together.
“People with pre-existing respiratory conditions are especially sensitive to poor air quality and should check air quality warnings before visiting (the site),” the park service said.
CNN’s David Culver, Anna-Maja Rappard, Elizabeth Wolfe, Amy Simonson and Chris Boyett contributed to this report.