We are now more than two months into this new eruption from Kilauea. Two months ago the fissures opened in the Leilani Estates subdivision and homes began to burn.
For two months this slow motion catastrophe has continued. While a major earthquake may be over in minutes, or a hurricane over in a few days, this eruption just goes on. For the folks in lower Puna the lava continues to destroy homes and disrupt lives.
For those of us outside the eruption zone things are not quite as immediate. We read the daily news, peruse images of helicopter overflights each morning, and wonder when it will be over.
The multiple county civil defense status reports and various emergency alerts that pop up on our phones each day provide current information… A bit of the Mamalahoa Highway has collapsed in Volcano Village with a one lane restriction, the road to Kalapana has re-opened, there is no tsunami threat from that last 5.4 magnitude earthquake.
Every day is punctuated by a magnitude five point something earthquake. These summit collapse events have become very regular. You can guess when they will occur as the frequency of small quakes increase around the caldera.
For the most part these events pass unnoticed by much of the island. The volcano area gets shaken up pretty well, but these fifth magnitude quakes are often not felt very far beyond that.
On the summit of Mauna Kea these daily quakes often do disturb the telescopes at night, bumping the tracking and ruining exposures, but otherwise too weak to cause any damage to the facilities.
The most significant island wide impact has been the vog, wreathing the island in a sulfurous haze. Sulfur dioxide pours from the active vents, mixes with water in the air and forms a thick brown grey haze.
When the vog is bad you not only see it, you smell the sulfur, it irritates eyes and nasal passages. Fire and brimstone reaches out to touch us all.
While the vog makes for spectacular sunsets, the vog can also be thick enough to curtail outside activity. A day like today, with brisk trade-winds to clear it away, is a welcome relief.
Opportunities to legally witness this eruption are few, authorities have been enforcing the evacuation area increasingly strictly. Legal options are the fly or float to the eruption. Deb and I chose to fly a month ago, a helicopter flight I am sure we will remember for a lifetime.
I have not attempted to go to photograph the lava river, despite a very strong desire to do so. The county and state have repeatedly talked about opening a lava viewing area. while there is a great deal of pressure from the community, so far nothing has materialized.
We are so ready for this eruption to be over.
Given the collapse of the summit caldera and the enormous volume of lava emitted so far, it may be possible that when this is over there will be no further eruption for a while. It may take a while for the volcano to recharge, perhaps a year or two. Will we return to the pattern of intermittent eruptions that was seen through much of the 20th century?
One of the most beautiful places on the island is gone.
The Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools were a place where anyone could see the wonders of a coral reef. The calm and protected pools full of fish and lush coral. You could see damselfish hovering over a coral head or watch small barracuda hunt just under the surface.
And they were popular, on any given day a couple dozen locals and tourists could be seen exploring the pools. You could swim across one or two, then have to climb across a few feet of old pahoehoe lava to drop into the next. The more adventurous were rewarded with even richer coral in the outermost pools where the ocean waves created more challenging swimming conditions.
One of the most poignant scenes we witnessed was the many farms destroyed by the lava
We took our helicopter ride Sunday morning, June 3rd. At this point the large flow from fissure 8 had not yet reached the neighborhoods at Kapoho. What the flow was burning through were the many papaya orchards and flower growers found above the bay.
Houses are bad enough, seeing the farms in front of the lava flow was worse. I found myself looking through the telephoto lens at the neat greenhouses, the orchards green in the morning sunlight. The wide flow front was in the process of destroying so many farms, remorselessly moving through the neat rows of papaya trees.
I am aware of how much a farmer puts into the land… Sweat, blood, heart and soul. I look at the photos and I see immaculate operations… Well maintained buildings, no weeds around the structures, the pitiless lava flow advancing. Each scene that appeared in the camera viewfinder was gut-wrenching.
How to get a good look at this eruption? Not a trivial question. The neighborhoods involved are under mandatory evacuation orders enforced by police and National Guard checkpoints. Quite a few people have been arrested and cited while trying to get closer to the lava.
This is the first major change in the eruptions of Kilauea in decades. This eruption features phenomena seen in the old documentaries, lava fountains hundreds of feet high, huge flows cutting through the rainforest. Things I have always wanted to see.
As much as I would like to visit, we have simply not tried to get into lower Puna. It is just not pono to interfere with residents frantically trying to salvage whatever they can ahead of the flows, or emergency services already overburdened with the ongoing situation.
Two legal ways exist for visitors to get a closer look… Fly or float. Either take a helicopter ride over the eruption, or take one of the lava boats to an ocean entry.