Molten lava on Hawaii’s Big Island could block main highway
HILO, Hawaii — Many people on the Big Island of Hawaii are bracing for major upheaval if lava from Mauna Loa volcano slides across a key highway and blocks the quickest route connecting two sides of the island.
The molten rock could block the road and force drivers to seek alternate routes along the coasts in the north or south. This could increase commute times, doctor visits, and freight truck deliveries by hours.
” I am very nervous about it getting cut off,” Frank Manley, a licensed nurse and licensed practical nurse, said. His commute is already an hour 45 from Hilo to Kailua Kona Kaiser Permanente.
If the highway closes, Manley anticipates driving two-and a half to three hours each way. Manley is concerned about losing his pay if he is delayed by traffic accidents or any other traffic disruptions along the alternate route.
The lava is slowly evaporating at a pace that could reach the road next week. Its path is unpredictable and could change, or it could stop completely, allowing the highway to be spared. The slow-moving flow was about 2.7 miles (4.3 km) from the road on Friday, U.S. Geological Survey researchers reported.
The island’s east side is home to the county seat of Hilo, and offers more affordable housing options. However, there are many opportunities for jobs in construction, beach resorts and other industries on the west side of the island, where Kailua Kona is located. The two communities are connected by Saddle Road, also known to be Route 200, or Daniel K. Inouye highway.
The state Department of Transportation took action Thursday to remove traffic obstructions on the northern coast route by reopening an lane across Nanue Bridge, which was closed for repairs.
Hilo is also one of the island’s major harbors. Here, a wide range of goods arrives by ship before being transported across the island by truck.
Hawaii County Councilor Susan L. K. Lee Loy (representing Hilo and parts Puna) said she is concerned about large rigs crossing aging coastal bridges.
“It’s going to take a lot to rethink how we move about on Hawaii Island,” she said.
Manley stated that he would need to get up at 3:00 a.m. in order to get to work by 8 a.m. He said that if he left at 5 p.m., he would have to get up at 3 a.m. to reach work by 8 a.m.
Tanya Harrison from Hilo stated that she would need to take a full day off to travel to Kona to see her doctor.
There are more than 200,000 Big Island residents. Harrison stated that she couldn’t believe the congestion amid the throngs, delivery trucks, and commuters who were forced to reroute.
” “It might even take less time to fly to Honolulu,” Harrison said about the hour flight. “There is no line at Hilo airport. Fly over, see the doctor, come back would actually be quicker than driving.”
Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa plans to provide rooms at a Kailua-Kona hotel so its dozen or so Hilo-based employees can avoid the long commute five days per week.
A shutdown could also affect major astronomy research at the summit of Mauna Kea, a 13,803-foot (4,207-meter) peak next to Mauna Loa that is home to some of the world’s most advanced telescopes.
The road to Mauna Kea’s summit is located midway between Hilo (Hilo) and Kona (). Many telescope workers would have to follow long, winding routes if lava crosses Saddle Road either side of Mauna Kea Access Road.
Rich Matsuda is associate director for external affairs at W.M. Keck Observatory said that telescopes might need to adjust their staff schedules or house workers at a facility halfway up the mountain so they don’t have a commute.
There is also the possibility that the lava flow could cross the lower portion of Mauna Kea Access Road and block workers from reaching the summit. Matsuda hopes that they will be able to use gravel and other bypass routes in the event of lava flow.
Previously, telescopes were shut down during winter storms that lasted several days or weeks. Matsuda stated that they are prepared to do it if necessary.
Hilo resident Hayley hina Barcia worries about difficulty reaching west-side surfing spots and relatives in other parts of the island.
” A lot of my family lives on the Puna side, and we have relatives in Kona.” Barcia stated. “We use this road to see each other, especially with the holidays coming up, to spend time, so we’re looking to have to go several hours longer to go the south way or taking the north road.”
Geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said if Mauna Loa follows historical patterns, they expect the eruption, which began Sunday night, to continue for one to two weeks.
Since then, traffic has blocked the road as people attempt to see the lava. A handful of resulting accidents included a two-vehicle crash that sent two people to the hospital with “not serious injuries,” Hawaii Police Department spokesperson Denise Laitinen said.
U.S. Rep. Ed Case, U.S. Rep. Kaiali’i Kahele wrote to President Joe Biden requesting immediate help for Hawaii County to ensure safety in the event of lava flows blocking the highway. Two Hawaii Democrats pointed out that restricted access could hamper emergency services since one of the island’s primary hospitals is located on the east side.
McAvoy reported from Honolulu. Andrew Selsky in Salem and Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, Honolulu, were also contributors to this report.
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