HONOLULU (KHON2) — It’s been nearly 40 years since Mauna Loa volcano erupted, and that one lasted three weeks. It’s not clear how long this one will last, but there have been some important lessons learned since then.
It was during the early morning hours of March 25, 1984 when Hawaii County Civil Defense Chief Harry Kim was woken up with a phone call from a police dispatcher.
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“Harry I got bad news. I said, what? And it was a good friend. He tells me Mauna Loa is erupting; and I thought, get real, because this is a police dispatcher, something like that would be from HVO,” said Kim.
Kim points out that the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory wasn’t as well equipped with technology then to determine right away that Mauna Loa was erupting. Soon after that he says people all over the island were reporting a red glow above the volcano. Later that afternoon, lava fountains had erupted from a fissure in the northeast rift zone.
“You can see the eruption on the skyline day by day. You can kind of trace the progress of the lava flow descending down on the northeast side of that particular summit,” said Ed Teixeira, former State Civil Defense vice-director.
Lava was moving fast and within a few days it came within four miles of Hilo. But it slowed down and by April 15 the eruption stopped, avoiding any major damage. Among the lessons learned, the importance of constant communication with scientists and other agencies.
“Continuous coordination and communications and above all, that all leads to planning, planning for the what if scenario. What if this happens and how do we protect the public?” said Teixeira.
Spectators caused traffic jams in Hilo, and some people put themselves in danger by going into areas that were closed off. That’s something officials are warning people not to do this time around. Kim stresses the amount of danger and destruction from the lava flow.
“So your water, your power, naturally your homes and those things, if you’re a farmer, tremendous destruction,” he said.
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Teixeira and Kim add that it’s also important to pay attention to information coming from official agencies like HVO and civil defense.