Like most of us living on Hawaii Island, I have received multitudes of calls, texts, messages asking about my personal safety as well as property damage. After reassuring concerned friends and family that everything is fine, I follow with “everything looks worse on the news than it is.” Yes, Pele is flexing her muscles, that’s what she does. We all feel for those immediately affected by the lava, smoke, and gases in the immediate vicinity. However, the news does tend to sensationalize every story; it’s what they do. What the news fails to convey is that this is a VERY BIG ISLAND.
Our island is not quite the size of Connecticut, but it is over 4000 square miles and home to over 200,000 people.
Courtesy Hawaii Volcanoes National Park / USGS
As you can see, Kilauea and the eruption zone to the east are about 30 miles from Hilo and 50 miles from Kona. The northern and western districts are more than 70 miles away. If trade winds are light, there is some volcanic fog over about half to 3/4 of the island. With normal trades, it’s sunny in Hilo, Kona, and to the north.
Not all volcanos are alike. Kilauea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai are shield volcanoes. They ooze lava freely and the eruptions are less violent. They are different than the deadly stratovolcanoes that are under tremendous pressure due to more viscous lava and steep slopes. Those volcanoes can release ash and debris for miles and are far more destructive. Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier are stratovolcanoes.
Kilauea has been erupting constantly since the 1980s. It has claimed homes and neighborhoods periodically through the decades. The main difference now is cable news 24/7. This will be their lead story until another disaster takes its place.
Lava flows since they started recording them (from Rowland and Walker 1990)
Cruise ships have halted ports of call to Kona and Hilo. Hotels and condos are receiving cancellations. Most of these accommodations are over 50 miles from volcanic activity. People are choosing to stay away because of what they see on the news. What they don’t see is that our island is more than the volcano. It still has beautiful mountains, forests, waterfalls and clear, calm ocean water. There is plenty to do here: fishing, diving, paddling, hiking, ziplines, exploring the culture. The unnecessary drop-in visitors will have an impact on our major revenue producing industry, tourism. This, in turn, will affect everyone in Hawaii, not just those in lower Puna. Real estate will be impacted as well, even in unaffected areas.
So if you really want to help people on Hawaii Island, come back. Keep returning and tell others to do the same. The Aloha Spirit is still very much alive here.