Lava from Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano eruption oozes toward major highway

Lava from Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, continues to ooze toward a major highway on Hawaii’s Big Island, though officials still say populated areas aren’t at risk.

As of Thursday morning, the leading edge of lava flow from the volcano, which erupted for the first time in 38 years on Sunday night, was more than 3 miles from Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road, at an elevation near 7,000 feet, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.

An aerial view of the lava fissures flowing down the Mauna Loa volcano.
In this aerial view, lava fissures flow downslope from the north flank of Mauna Loa volcano, as it erupts on Nov. 30 near Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. (Andrew Richard Hara/Getty Images)

The agency issued an update on Thursday that the lava flow had significantly slowed and spread out, and would take at least one week to reach the highway.

“The lava flow on Mauna Loa continues its VERY SLOW progress in the saddle area,” the agency tweeted. “Neither the highway nor any populated areas are currently at risk.”

An aerial photo captured during an overflight of Mauna Loa's Northeast Rift Zone.
An aerial photo shows the Northeast Rift Zone eruption of Mauna Loa volcano. (USGS/Civil Air Patrol/Handout via Reuters)

Lava flows had begun to slow down Wednesday night at a rate of 0.02 mph, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The state’s emergency management agency has opened two shelters on the island as a precaution, but tweeted on Wednesday that “no populated areas are currently threatened and no evacuation orders are in place.”

“State transportation officials expect it would take about 6 hours to close the highway if necessary, providing time to alert the public in advance,” the agency said.

Lava fountains and flows illuminate the area during the Mauna Loa volcano eruption
Lava fountains and flows illuminate the area during the Mauna Loa volcano eruption. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)

Hawaii Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation on Monday, with a disaster relief period in effect through Jan. 27, 2023. But the governor added that the island is still open to visitors, and flights have resumed their normal schedule.

“We’re thankful the lava flow is not affecting residential areas at this time, allowing schools and businesses to remain open,” Ige said.

“Hawaiʻi Island is open to visitors, and it is safe to view the volcano from a distance.”

Mauna Loa, which means "Long Mountain" in Hawaiian, has erupted 33 times since its first recorded eruption in 1843, and is considered one of the world’s most active volcanoes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. When it last erupted in 1984, lava flow came within 4.5 miles of the town of Hilo, the largest population center on the island.