With Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano in the world, erupting, some travelers may be wondering if they can still visit Hawaii.
If you're planning a trip to Hawaii, the short answer is there's no need to change your travel plans at this time, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. There's actually an influx of travelers hoping to view the red glow of the lava.
The volcano started to erupt around 11:30 p.m. local time Sunday in Moku‘āweoweo Caldera, located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Early Monday morning the lava started its migration from the summit to the northeast flank. As of Thursday morning, the lava flow was reported to be moving at a "significantly" slow pace, with no threat posed to communities or the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, the fastest route connecting the Kona and Hilo.
"It will be spectacular where it is, but the chances of it really interrupting the visitor industry – very, very slim," Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said, according to AP.
However, some people may have their travel plans impacted. On Monday, Southwest Airlines suspended all operations in Hilo, affecting nine interisland flights between Hilo and Honolulu, a spokesperson for the airline told USA TODAY. Both Southwest Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, the two major carriers to the islands, are offering travel waivers for those with upcoming flights to their respective Hawaii destinations.
Most activities on Hawaii Island are operating normally, except for a few closures around the volcano.
People going to Hawaii Island or who are currently there should monitor the USGS website for updates.
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Can I still visit Hawaii during the eruption?
Yes, visitors can keep their travel plans to the state and even Hawaii Island, officials from Hawaii Tourism Authority said in a statement, since the lava is not yet posing a threat to communities. The other islands are not impacted by the eruption.
However, the agency does advise people staying in the communities downslope of the volcano, like Pahala, to "have emergency preparedness plans ready in the event an evacuation becomes necessary." As a safety precaution and in response to people self-evacuating, shelters have opened at the Old Kona Airport in Kailua-Kona and Ka‘u Gymnasium in Pahala.
Those with plans to stay in short-term vacation rentals are advised to contact their hosts for more information.
"The major resort areas of Kailua-Kona, the Kohala Coast, and Hilo are not immediately downslope of the eruption," the agency said in a statement.
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Are flights to Hawaii affected by the eruption?
Hawaii Island's two main airports, Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO), remain open as of Monday afternoon in Hawaii. But people with upcoming flights in the state are advised to check with their airline about possible flight disruptions.
Southwest Airlines canceled all flights in Hilo, which affected nine flights between Hilo and Honolulu on Monday. People flying to and from any of their Hawaii destinations, including Lihue on Kauai and Honolulu, can rebook their flights on Monday and Tuesday without paying any additional fees. Normal operations resumed Tuesday.
Hawaiian Airlines posted a travel waiver on Monday morning for people flying to and from Hawaii Island between Monday, Nov. 28 and Dec. 4. Travelers can reschedule their flight at no additional cost as long as they rebook by Dec. 4 or cancel their flight for credit that expires one year from now.
"Our transpacific and interisland flights, including service to and from Kona and Hilo, are operating as scheduled," Kris Tanahara, a spokesperson for Hawaiian Airlines, told USA TODAY. The airline also added an extra flight from Hilo to Honolulu departing Monday evening to "ensure we can accommodate more travelers whose plans may have changed or been disrupted."
Are people on Hawaii Island in immediate danger?
Currently, there is no immediate danger posed to people in Hawaii. On Monday at 8 a.m., Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth declared a state of emergency but also wrote on Facebook that "there are no evacuations or threats to the community at this time."
The lava was moving downslope along the northeast flank, which is not populated, as of Monday morning. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted that because the lava has moved into "less steep terrain," there is "more time for preparation and early warning" since lava moves faster in steep terrain. The shallow slopes "allow it to cool more as it moves downhill, slowing its progress even more."
That being said, historically, "the early stages of a Mauna Loa rift zone eruption can be very dynamic, and the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly," according to the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. The last time the volcano, one of five in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, erupted was in 1984.
Are there any health hazards from the eruption?
Volcanic gas, fine ash and Pele's Hair, which are hair strand-like glass fibers formed by gas during a volcanic eruption, could be carried downwind during this time. There is no official threat for ashfall, but people should be mindful that some areas may have "low-air quality due to vog," which is air pollution from volcanic emissions. Short-term health effects include coughing or shortness of breath.
Those with breathing problems, such as asthma, emphysema or COPD, should take precautions such as staying indoors with the doors and windows closed and monitoring the wind when planning to go outside. If you use medications for a respiratory condition, it's advised to speak to your doctor to have them on hand.
Is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park still open during the eruption?
This is a rare chance for visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see both Mauna Loa and Kīlauea erupting at the same time. Expect more crowds and longer wait times to witness the sacred event.
The main areas of the park remain open to the public, according to a press release on Tuesday. The Mauna Loa summit, cabins and high-elevation areas have been closed since early October when the summit first began "experiencing heightened unrest." Mauna Loa Observatory, located just outside the park, is also closed.
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The Mauna Loa Observatory Access Road and Mauna Loa Road up to the gate at Kīpukapuaulu are closed and those who try to access these roads will be subject to fines and arrest, according to a press release by the Department of Land and Natural Resources on Tuesday.
"Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is keeping close watch on Mauna Loa in tandem with our colleagues at USGS and Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense,” Rhonda Loh Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Superintendent, said in a statement. "The park is currently open, but visitors should be prepared and stay informed."
Mauna Loa is surrounded by forests and natural reserves, which are now also closed due to the eruption. The nearby Kapāpala Game Management Area, Mauna Loa Forest Reserve, the Kīpuka ʻĀinahou Nēnē Sanctuary, ʻĀinapō Trail and cabin and the Kapāpala Forest Reserve are closed for at least 90 days.
How can I see the lava flow on Hawaii Island?
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers the best views of the lava flow. At night, the lava's glow is "currently visible from many areas and overlooks surrounding Kaluapele (Kīlauea caldera)." According to the park's website, here are the best viewing locations and times:
Kūpinaʻi Pali (Waldron Ledge) at Kīlauea Visitor Center from 5 to 8 p.m.
Overlook near Keanakākoʻi Crater from 5 to 9 p.m.
National Park Service recommended people wear closed-toe shoes and bring a rain jacket in case of inclement weather, and a headlamp for nighttime viewing.
If you're outside of the park, you can see the lava flow from Daniel K. Inouye Highway – just keep a few things in mind. People are prohibited from stopping or parking on the highway between mile markers 16 and 31. Hawaii Police Department will give citations and tow parked vehicles, according to the County of Hawaii website. People are advised to park in a safer, designated parking lot to see the lava, like the Gil Kahele Recreation Area, which is open 24 hours and offers parking spaces and restrooms.
Otherwise, many residents in both Hilo and Kona said they can see the sky glow red at night from their own homes.
When did Mauna Loa last erupt?
Volcanic activity is not unusual for Hawaii, especially Hawaii Island, but eruptions are considered rare, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority. It's been 38 years since Mauna Loa last erupted – the longest recorded quiet period for the volcano, according to USGS.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mauna Loa eruption: What travelers to Hawaii can expect