As lava oozes, Hawaii officials say rest of the island is open


Associated Press

VOLCANO, Hawaii

Warnings that Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano could shoot boulders and ash out of its summit crater are prompting people to rethink their plans to visit the Big Island.

But most of the rest of the island is free of volcanic hazards, and local tourism officials are hoping travelers will recognize the Big Island is ready to welcome them.

Rachel Smigelski-Theiss is among those who have shifted gears. She had intended to visit Kilauea’s summit with her husband and 5-year-old daughter and stay in Volcano, a town a few miles from the crater. Now they’ve canceled their trip. She’s worried potential flight disruptions would strand them on the island.

“My equivalent of this – and I’m from South Florida where we have hurricanes – is driving quite literally into a hurricane,” she said.

Hawaii officials have had a busy month pleading with travelers to keep their plans even as dramatic images of natural disasters afflicting the islands have bombarded televisions and social media feeds.

In April, floods on Kauai Island made travelers nervous. Then last week, it was Kilauea volcano sending 2,200 degree lava bursting through cracks into people’s backyards in the Leilani Estates neighborhood. Then as Kilauea’s magma shifted underground, a magnitude-6.9 earthquake rocked the Big Island.

Since the quake, there have been frequent aftershocks. More than a dozen fissures oozing lava have opened in the ground. Adding to the distress, of the 36 structures destroyed, 26 were homes.

And now, scientists are warning that an explosive eruption may occur at the summit crater within weeks.

Tina Neal, the scientist-in-charge of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory, said geologists don’t expect the summit eruption to be life-threatening so long as people stay out of the national park. Volcano and other nearby communities may be showered by pea-sized fragments or dusted with nontoxic ash but they aren’t expected to get hit by large boulders, she said.

Robert Hughes, the owner of Aloha Junction Bed and Breakfast in Volcano, said he’s had “tons” of cancellations since Wednesday when geologists first warned of the explosive eruption.

But Hughes, a 45-year resident of the village of some 2,500 people, suspects he’ll soon hear from adventurers and photographers who want to see the eruption up close.

“I’m not too worried about it because I’ve lived here so long, and I’ve seen it go through lots of different episodes,” Hughes said.

The town, which is nestled in a lush rainforest a few miles from the crater, is a popular overnight spot for park visitors.

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