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Hawaii officials want evacuation plan for Mauna Loa volcano

  • COURTESY PHOTO / USGS
                                An aerial view of the prominent 1940 cinder-and-spatter cone on the floor of Mauna Loa’s summit caldera. The cone, about 330 feet high, grew during a 134-day-long eruption that began on April 7, 1940.

    COURTESY PHOTO / USGS

    An aerial view of the prominent 1940 cinder-and-spatter cone on the floor of Mauna Loa’s summit caldera. The cone, about 330 feet high, grew during a 134-day-long eruption that began on April 7, 1940.

HILO >> Hawaii is creating an emergency evacuation plan for the Big Island in preparation for the next eruption of the largest active volcano on Earth.

A state Senate resolution adopted in March asks the state’s emergency management division to develop evacuation plans for impact zones around Mauna Loa volcano, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Monday.

That includes most of the Big Island, which is home to several active volcanos including Kilauea, which erupted in 2018 and displaced thousands of residents.

While the resolution is not legally binding, lawmakers hope a completed plan will be codified into law next year. Kona state Sen. Dru Kanuha, who introduced the resolution, said they will follow up with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency throughout the year.

Kanuha said there was no codified evacuation plan during the 2018 Kilauea eruption.

“There is not a master plan that exists currently for this kind of disaster,” Kanuha said.

Volcano officials say there is no immediate threat of a Mauna Loa eruption. The USGS Volcano Alert-Level System lists Mauna Loa under “advisory” status, the second-lowest of four tiers.

Puna Sen. Joy San Buenaventura, who co-introduced the resolution with Kanuha, said the response to the 2018 Kilauea eruption highlighted the need for a plan.

“They were constantly making these last-minute plans as the eruption went on,” San Buenaventura said. “So, on a personal level, I see the need for a master plan, especially if (an eruption) is going to be bigger.”

Kanuha said he is concerned about the area of South Kona and Ka’u — where steep Mauna Loa slopes could lead to rapid lava flows and “precious little time” to evacuate residents and visitors.

Mauna Loa eruptions have reached many regions of the Big Island, including the island’s most populous city, Hilo.

Kanuha said the evacuation plan will be presented to the state before the start of the 2022 legislative session.

Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984. U.S. Geological Survey officials have reported changes in seismicity on the volcano for years. The summit has been inflating since 2014 and there has been an uptick in earthquakes under the volcano’s west flank this year.

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