Hawaii: Lava Threatens Crucial Big Island Highway

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — Flows of incandescent lava from the world’s largest volcano could obliterate the main highway linking the east and west coasts of the Big Island of Hawaii starting this weekend, and there’s nothing that can be done to prevent it, experts announced.

Mauna Loa woke up from its 38-year slumber on Sunday, spewing ash and volcanic rock. The magma draws thousands of spectators to Route 200 near Parque Nacional de los Volcanes, who endure a strong smell of volcanic gases and sulfur to watch the broad lava flow approaching.

“It’s exciting,” said Kathryn Tarananda, of Waimea. The 66-year-old woman set two alarms so she wouldn’t miss the opportunity to see the sunrise against the background of the eruptions. “We are in the middle of nature. It is motivating that we live in this place… I feel very, very lucky to be an islander.”

Lava flowing slowly down the slope is only a few miles up the road, which crosses ancient lava flows. Known as Saddle Road, the highway bisects the island and connects the cities of Hilo and Kailua-Kona. Should it become impassable, the alternative is a longer coastal route, adding several hours to the journey.

Ken Hon, scientist in charge of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said Wednesday that given the current flow, lava could reach the road in as little as two days, though it is likely to take longer.

“As the lava flow spreads, it will probably interfere with its own progress,” Hon said.

Meanwhile, scientists are trying to measure the gas emitted by the eruption.


Kelleher reported from Honolulu. Selsky reported from Salem, Oregon. Associated Press writers Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu and Greg Bull and Haven Daley in Hilo contributed to this report.

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