Officials in Hawaii have activated the state’s National Guard as lava from the eruption of Mauna Loa encroaches on a critical highway.
Lava has slowly been flowing toward the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, known to locals as Saddle Road, for days.
The crucial road runs more than 50 miles west-to-east across the island and serves as a crucial thoroughfare between Hilo and Kona.
Members of the National Guard were called to help with traffic control on Monday, over a week after the volcano began shooting out fountains of lava for the first time in nearly four decades.
“Gov. David Ige and Maj. General Kenneth Hara activated 20 Hawai’i National Guard service members on Monday and placed them on active duty to assist Hawai’i County with traffic control and other roles in the Mauna Loa eruption,” Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency said.
As of Monday, the lava was about 2.16 miles away from the highway, according to the US Geological Survey. The lava has been moving at an approximate rate of 25 feet per hours, a slower rate than the 40 feet per hour it hit over the weekend.
The National Guard is expected to remain activated for 30 days, though the timeframe could be adjusted as the situation evolves, according to the state Department of Defense. Members had previously been called in 2014 and 2018 for Kilauea eruption response operations.
Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, began erupting Nov. 27 for the first time in nearly four decades, and nearby Kilauea has been erupting for the past year.
The rare site is “expected to draw an influx of visitors… who hope to see a rare dual eruption from both Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes” the national park said in a Facebook post.
Neither eruption poses a threat to nearby homes, but the volcanoes could affect air quality, officials said.
Currently, all of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway remains open, but areas adjacent to the road are closed and prohibited to access by the public, Hawaii County mayor Mitch Roth said Monday.
“With the lava being where it’s at, we feel pretty certain that the lava won’t impact any populated areas,” Roth said during a Monday news conference. “There’s a lot of (moving) pieces. How fast it’s moving. How close it’s gonna come to the highway. How long it will take if there’s any dangers that we’re seeing.”
The US Geological Survey echoed the sentiment, saying “many variables are at play” making it difficult to determine how residents may be impacted by the lava flow.
“Timing of flow advances are expected to change over periods of hours to days, making it difficult to estimate when or if the flow will impact Daniel K. Inouye Highway,” the geological survey said.