East Hawaii News

Viewing Volcanic Beauty Can Be Fraught With Danger

May 17, 2013, 7:33 PM HST
* Updated May 28, 11:25 AM
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Scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory are again warning the public about the dangers involved in getting close to where lava meets the sea.

The missive in HVO’s latest Volcano Watch column notes that there have been four deaths related to the ocean entry of Kilauea volcano.

“Most of us feel fortunate if we never go near a dangerous battlefield. Yet, dozens, if not hundreds, of people are knowingly — or unwittingly — doing just that every day on Kilauea Volcano,” the column said.

HVO has repeatedly cautioned people about the hazards of ocean entries in previous “Volcano Watch” articles.

“But Hawai‘i residents and visitors — as individuals and in groups — continue to put themselves at risk by approaching Kilauea’s current ocean entry too closely, both by land and by sea,” the column said.

It cited as a recent example kayakers who paddled just feet from lava streaming into the ocean.

“Then, further risking their lives, they went ashore, walking across new land built by the ocean entry and scooping molten lava with their paddles. Their actions were unsafe and cause for grave concern — not to mention, culturally insensitive.”

HVO noted that the lava “benches” are unstable, and at times as much as 44 acres of newly formed land have collapsed with virtually no warning.

Also, at least two people have died from inhaling the plume generated by the ocean entry as it contains hydrochloric acid and tiny particles of volcanic glass.

And even getting to the volcanic activity can be deadly.

Although last week’s fatality on the lava plain was not directly related to the ocean entry, “it underscores the need to be fully prepared for a long, hot hike if you plan to trek across Kilauea’s lava flow field,” scientists said.

The Canadian man whose body was recovered by rescue crews on May 7 had apparently become overheated and disoriented.

A police spokeswoman said the department is still awaiting a report on the results of an autopsy performed on the visitor.

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