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President Donald Trump declared a major disaster for Hawaii's Big Island. Image: USGS / Anadolu / Getty

President Donald Trump declared a major disaster for Hawaii’s Big Island. Image: USGS / Anadolu / Getty


The Inertia

Unless you’ve been spending your time under a rock with your eyes squeezed shut and mud in your ears, you know that thanks to Kilauea’s eruption, Hawaii’s Big Island is currently in the process of getting bigger. Unfortunately for those who live there, it’s doing so in the dramatic fashion that the Hawaiian Islands do: by spewing molten rock all over the place. Now, after days of volcanic activity have slowly and inexorably destroyed homes and lives, President Trump declared a major disaster in Hawaii. In doing so, he opens up the federal coffers and allows that sweet, sweet disaster money to flow into the recovery efforts, which will supplement the state’s attempts and cleaning up the kind of mess that only a volcano can make.

Kilauea first erupted on May 3rd, and, as of Saturday, it’s kept on keeping on for just over a week. Hundreds of people in the area—most notably at Leilani Estates—have been affected either by lava, noxious fumes, or other types of fire and/or brimstone.

On Friday, authorities officially closed the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (which seems to be a good idea, all things considered) until the earth stops spewing her molten guts out. According to the US Geological Survey, however, that isn’t likely to happen for a while, as “additional outbreaks of lava are likely.”

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Geologists studying the area warning that Kilauea looks as though it could really begin to flex it muscles, saying that there’s a chance of refrigerator-sized boulders shooting miles into the air. “If it goes up, it will come down,” said Charles Mandeville, volcano hazards coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey. “You don’t want to be underneath anything that weighs 10 tons when it’s coming out at 120 mph.”

Some 300 people are spending their nights at emergency shelters, and in total, around 2,000 people have been evacuated. Hawaii News Now reported that it’s expected that it’ll be “weeks or even months before they can return home.”

Kilauea’s not just an active volcano. Like a 5-year-old who’s eaten his weight in sugar, it’s positively hyperactive. The caldera at the summit is where Pele, Hawaii’s volcano goddess, supposedly calls home. In that caldera is a lava lake called the Halema’uma’u. It’s been erupting steadily since January of 1983, but, of course, not in quite the dramatic fashion that we’ve seen in recent weeks.

An evening view of Kīlauea Volcano’s summit lava lake in the “Overlook crater” within Halemaʻumaʻu. USGS photo by M. Patrick, Sept. 28, 2016.

An evening view of Kīlauea Volcano’s summit lava lake in the “Overlook crater” within Halemaʻumaʻu. USGS photo by M. Patrick, Sept. 28, 2016.

This is far from the first time communities in the area have been destroyed. Back in January of ’83, the Royal Gardens subdivision, which had 16 homes in it, was almost completely destroyed by lava. Then, just three years later, the town of Kalapana watched helplessly as lava flows meandered through their town like the world’s hottest, slowest moving stream. In 1990. Kilauea really blew its stack. “Kilauea entered its most destructive eruption period in modern history,” wrote Mary Bagley for Live Science. “Over the summer more than 100 homes, a church and a store were buried beneath 50 to 80 feet (15 to 24 meters) of lava.”