Officials in Hawaii activated the state’s National Guard earlier this week in response to the eruption of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano.
Governor David Ige and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state’s adjunct general, activated 20 service members on Monday to assist “with traffic control and other roles,” according to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
For over a week since its Nov. 27 eruption, Mauna Loa, located on Hawaii’s Big Island, has been spewing molten lava. It marks the volcano’s first eruption since 1984.
On Nov. 28, Hara spoke at a press briefing, noting that typical requests for assistance for this type of emergency would likely be “incident and awareness assessment type missions, air and ground evacuation, security logistics and communications.”
Shortly after the eruption, a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircrew from Air Station Barbers Point conducted a flyover of the volcano to assess the situation, according to a press release from Coast Guard District 14.
The consequences from the lava alone could be severe, as it dangerously inches closer to Daniel K. Inouye highway, the main roadway connecting the eastern and western halves of the Big Island. As of Monday, the lava was flowing less than 2 miles from the highway, also known as Saddle Road, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
“While the lava is moving very slowly at the moment and doesn’t pose an imminent hazard to populated areas, it’s still a hazard with huge destructive potential,” Luke Meyers, administrator of HI-EMA, said in the agency’s most recent news release last week. “We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t work to define the possible impacts and recommend ways to reduce or eliminate them.”
Officials are also warning of the impact on air quality caused by volcanic ash and gases.
This is not the first time the National Guard or the military has been used to respond to volcanic incidents on the island. Back in 1935, the Army actually bombed the erupting Mauna Loa in an attempt to halt its flow of lava, according to HistoryNet. Since 1843, Mauna Loa has erupted 34 times, according to the National Park Service.
Another volcano on the Big Island, Kilauea, is continuing to erupt, meanwhile, and drawing the attention of both residents and tourists. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park currently remains open to visitors looking to catch a glimpse at the dual eruptions, according to the Park Service, which highlighted safety tips and some of the best viewing locations on its website.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media