HI-EMA deploys team to assist with Hawaii County’s response to eruption

UPDATED 3:42 p.m.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, or HI-EMA, has deployed a team to Hilo to assist with the county’s emergency response to the eruption of Mauna Loa volcano.


At the same time, HI-EMA is coordinating analysis of potential consequences to the Big Island economy, infrastructure, transportation network, and other effects if the eruption were to eventually damage the Daniel K. Inouye Highway or other significant systems.

“While the lava is moving very slowly at the moment and doesn’t pose an imminent hazard to populated areas, it’s still a hazard with huge destructive potential,” Luke Meyers, administrator of HI-EMA, said in a statement. “We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t work to define the possible impacts and recommend ways to reduce or eliminate them.”

Meyers traveled to Hilo on Thursday with a HI-EMA team to meet with county officials and the Civil Defense Agency team, which has been activated 24 hours a day since the eruption started Sunday. Meyers also took part Thursday in a 2.5-hour overflight of the eruption area with the Civil Air Patrol.

“This was a good opportunity to see the hazards and threats from the Mauna Loa eruption,” he said. “It really gave me a better perspective of the situation and where the lava flow is going.”

The four-person Emergency Management Assistance Team deployed to Hilo will support the Civil Defense, helping with operations, planning, and logistical challenges during the emergency. The team also will help to ensure that any needs the county identifies can be quickly matched up with available resources and data.

HI-EMA personnel also are coordinating with subject-matter experts to assemble a framework for addressing the consequences — both immediate and long-term — should the lava eventually damage or destroy part of the highway, power lines or other crucial systems.

“Cutting the highway or other critical infrastructure could affect economic activity, increase commute times, complicate delivery of goods and services, or a whole host of other potential consequences,” Meyers said. “As part of HI-EMA’s support role, we’re developing a blueprint that can be used to anticipate and mitigate those consequences, and maybe even prevent some of them.”

UPDATED 10:00 a.m.

Only one Mauna Loa fissure is still active as the lava flow inches closer to Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

David Phillips, deputy scientist in charge for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said this morning that the fourth fissure to open on Mauna Loa’s northeast flank has become stagnant, leaving the third fissure as the only driver of the lava flow.

With minimal seismic activity beneath the volcano’s Northeast Rift Zone, Phillips said it has grown increasingly less likely that more fissures will open in the future, although he added that it remains within the realm of possibility.

Any future fissures that do open, however, will be on Mauna Loa’s northeast flank, Phillips said.

It is still not clear whether the lava flow is traveling to the east or west, Phillips said. The flow is still at least one week from reaching Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

Mayor Mitch Roth said that roughly 2,000 vehicles traversed a newly opened Traffic Hazard Mitigation Route last night. The route, a one-way, 4.5-mile stretch of Old Saddle Road between the Gilbert Kahele State Recreation Area and Pu‘u Huluhulu, offers drivers a safe place to park and view the lava.

Hawaii Police spokeswoman Denise Laitinen said that four additional traffic citations were issued last night to drivers parked illegally alongside the highway, bringing the total number of citations since the eruption began to 28. Parking between the 16- and 31-mile markers can incur a $1,000 fine and a towed vehicle.

Roth urged users of the mitigation route to keep their trash inside their vehicles. Portable toilets are available along the route, and the Gilbert Kahele State Recreation Area remains open 24 hours a day, including its bathrooms.

Original story

Lava remains 2.7 miles away from Daniel K. Inouye Highway this morning.

Hawaii County Civil Defense reported that the leading edge of the Mauna Loa lava flow has “minimal movement,” having advanced about half a mile in the last 24 hours.

The highway remains open in both directions. However, the speed limit near the Maunakea Access Road has been reduced to 35 miles per hour.

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