HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK >> Halemaumau Crater at the Kilauea summit is double its former size and continuing to expand at a rate unseen in modern times, according to scientists who accompanied journalists to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park today.
The summit region of the park has been closed since May 11 and today’s tour was the first time the news media was granted access to the heart of the Kilauea volcano, which began erupting anew May 3 along the lower East Rift Zone in Puna, where nearly 700 homes have been destroyed by lava.
Several inches of gray and white ash covered portions of the parking lot and walkways at the Jaggar Museum Overlook, and the entire summit area was barren and ashy for miles around, a result of regular explosions at the crater.
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Cracks were evident in the overlook’s lava rock walls and bare patches of ground around the parking lot. The park’s roads, waterlines and buildings also have sustained damage, some of it worsening with each new shake.
With daily earthquakes and ongoing safety hazards, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park acting superintendent Rhonda Loh said it’s too early to fully assess the damage and start planning repairs that would allow visitors to return.
“It wouldn’t make sense for someone to make a risk assessment until we see a little more settling,” she said.
“We’re really waiting to hear from the scientists from the (U.S. Geological Survey) about when conditions have changed to the point that we can look at recovery and what will need to be done to be able to reopen the park safely.”
Last year, HVNP welcomed 2 million visitors, collecting $21,000 a day in entrance fees, 80 percent of which is used to enhance visitor services, Loh said.
While the summit region is closed, HVNP’s 116,000-acre Kahuku Unit is open for hiking and other activities from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
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