Nearly 100 days since its closure, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has changed dramatically

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Saturday, Aug. 18, will mark 100 days since Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed to the public in light of Kilauea’s recent eruption activity.

Since its closure, conditions within the park continue to change, and the difference is dramatic.

On Friday, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory lowered the volcano alert level for ground based hazards from warning to watch.

The observatory noted in its latest report:

“This change indicates that the hazards posed by crater collapse events (at the Kīlauea summit) and lava flows (Lower East Rift Zone; LERZ) are diminished. However, the change does not mean with absolute certainty that the LERZ eruption or summit collapses are over. It remains possible that eruption and collapse activity could resume.

“Although no signs of imminent hazardous activity are present at this time, residents of the region near recently active fissures should stay informed, heed Civil Defense warnings, and be prepared, if necessary, to self-evacuate.”

The aviation color code remains at orange.

Meanwhile, the lull in seismic activity is giving park rangers a chance to assess the damage at the state’s biggest park. 

Approximately 5,000 to 6,000 visitors flock to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on a daily basis, park rangers say. 

But if those visitors came back to the Hawaii island state park, they’d be shocked. Many of the beloved landmarks are broken or unrecognizable.

The lava lake at Halemaumau Crater looks drained, and the crater has quadrupled in size. 

“It’s gone from a couple hundred feet deep to 1,500 deep in places now. The changes are staggering that we’ve seen at the crater. There’s no active lava lake anymore,” said Jessica Ferracane, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman. “It’s like Pele left her home at the summit, went out to the lower East Rift, and we fell apart, literally and figuratively, without her.”

Beyond the crater, many roads have formed deep cracks in the asphalt, cutting off car and foot access to certain parts of the expansive park. 

A gaping hole in one of the park’s many parking lots started out the size of a dinner plate only two weeks ago. 

Once a bustling busy area, the visitor center is now eerily quiet and covered in ash and overgrown grass. 

Ferracane says the latest eruption caused an unprecedented amount of earthquakes. From June to early August, officials counted 18,000 per month. 

“Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has taken a real beating from all this seismic activity. Parks crumbled into the crater. We have broken water lines, our buildings and other infrastructure are damaged,” explained Ferracane. 

Will Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ever fully reopen? That’s the hope.

“Park officials are actively working on not only gathering this team of experts that will be doing safety assessments. But we’re also looking at what short-term solutions can we find, like what parts of the park would accommodate parking, water, etc.,” she said. 

For now, Ferracane says, the park remains closed indefinitely.

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