Hawaii Volcanoes National Park facilities are in worse shape today following Sunday’s 5.5-magnitude earthquake that left cracks in the most popular part of the largely closed park.
National Park Service officials reported today that the quake, which rattled the summit area at 3:50 p.m. Sunday, left cracks in the park’s visitor overlook deck at Jaggar Museum.
The park, which is Hawaii’s most-visited tourist attraction, has been partially closed a record 25 days and has no prospect of reopening anytime soon. A lower third of the park remains open, but the upper section is where most visitors flocked to see the volcano caldera and lava in its vent from the overlook deck.
Other conditions at the park where nearly all staff has been evacuated include layers of acidic volcanic ash coating picnic tables, roads and overlooks.
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The corrosive ash has been produced from explosions at the summit that launch rocks nearby along with ash that can rise in a plume as high as 30,000 feet.
Besides the explosions, earthquakes big and small are a near constant occurrence at the summit.
Over the weekend, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported more than 500 shallow earthquakes in a 24-hour period – the most ever measured by HVO scientists, according to NPS.
NPS officials also said today that ash has caused poor visibility on Highway 11, creating dangerous driving conditions at times, and that the park is without water because of snapped pipes.
Also, roads in the park are fractured, and three buildings including the park’s visitor emergency operations center are damaged. NPS said Crater Rim Drive and Hilina Pali Road near Kulanaokuaiki Campground are impassable in places.
Along the park’s eastern shoreline boundary, earth cracks were observed near Holei Sea Arch on a recent overflight and are of concern to park officials, NPS added.
“We understand and commiserate with our community and visitors about the prolonged closure, but we cannot provide safe access to the Kilauea section of the park as long as these very unpredictable dangers threaten the safety of park staff and visitors,” Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando, said in a statement. “Unlike lava, which you can see coming and avoid, we cannot see or predict earthquakes, nor can we foresee a summit explosion, but both threats continue.”
Park officials invite visitors to see the section of the property that remains open, and to visit rangers who have been deployed to other places to help people experience what is going on at the park even though they can’t be there.
The “Kahuku Unit” of the park, which is an hour south of the main entrance on Highway 11 near mile marker 70.5, is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
However, this part of the park that is popular for its hikes can be impacted by poor air quality depending on wind direction.
Park rangers and volcano displays are also at the Mokupapapa Discovery Center, a marine museum, in downtown Hilo Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Starting today, rangers are at the Volcano Art Center’s Niaulani Campus in Volcano Village from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Rangers are also at the Hilo Airport most days, and at the Naniloa Hotel Sundays and Mondays to answer questions about the park and current eruption conditions.