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Ige forms command to ‘streamline military response’ to Kilauea eruption

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Fissure No. 17 is still active Wednesday near Lanipuna Gardens.

Gov. David Ige announced the formation of a dual-status command joint task force for the Kilauea eruption that would allow Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara to command active military personnel and the Hawaii National Guard.

The governor’s office said in a written statement that this will allow for a clear chain of command between state and federal agencies.

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“Based on the current threat, the (joint task force) may be required for search and rescue, incident awareness and assessment, debris clearance, security and emergency evacuations,” the statement said.

“For example, Gen. Hara now has the authority to command both the National Guard and active military forces to plan for and be ready to execute those plans should roadways in Puna be lost to lava and a mass air evacuation is necessary,” it read.

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis approved the request earlier today.

The eruption began May 3 in lower Puna on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone. About 2,000 people have been evacuated and 37 structures have been destroyed.

As of Wednesday morning, lava flows from fissure No. 17 had advanced little over the past day, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

At Kilauea’s summit, large rocks up to 2 feet across were found in a parking lot a few hundreds yards from Halema‘uma‘u Crater following a large ash plume the day before that was seen at least as far as Hilo. Ash was deposited in Pahala, and possibly Pahoa.

“These (rocks) reflect the most energetic explosions yet observed and could reflect the onset of steam-driven explosive activity,” HVO said in a statement.

An ash fall advisory for the volcano’s summit has ended but may be reintroduced as conditions change.

Disruption of trade winds means more parts of Hawaii Island will experience vog Wednesday until trade-wind patters return Thursday.

The smell of sulfur lingered in the air early Wednesday morning in Hilo.

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David Damby, a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said sulfur dioxide levels currently aren’t hazardous, aside from near active fissures, and that it can be smelled at low levels.

The Hawaii Fire Department reports that air quality is still condition red around fissures in the southeast area of Lanipuna Gardens and surrounding farm lots on Pohoiki Road. That means there is an immediate danger to health.