The first eruption in 38 years of the world’s largest active volcano is attracting onlookers to a Hawaiian national park keen for “spectacular” views of the event.
However, the eruption of Mauna Loa is also dredging up bad memories among some Hawaii residents who have been through harrowing experiences.
Officials were initially concerned that lava flowing down the side of the volcano would head toward South Kona, but scientists later assured the public that the eruption migrated to a rift zone on Mauna Loa’s north-east flank and was not threatening any communities.
However, the uncertainty is somewhat unnerving for many people.
Nicole Skilling, who lived near another community where lava destroyed more than 700 homes in 2018, said: “It just happened last night, so I really haven’t had a lot of time to worry about it yet, basically.
“And thankfully, right now, it’s at the north-east rift zone. But if it breaks on the west side, that’s when we’re talking about coming into a large populated area … That’s why I do have a little bit of PTSD.”
Even though there were no evacuation orders, some people decided to leave their homes, prompting officials to open shelters in the Kona and Kau areas. Very few if any stayed in them overnight, Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said, and they were due to close on Tuesday.
Despite that, some people in the area are preparing for sudden changes.
Kamakani Rivera-Kekololio, who lives in the south Kona community of Hookena, was keeping supplies including food and blankets in his car.
“We’re being makaukau for anything,” Mr Rivera-Kekololio said, using the Hawaiian word for “ready”.
Ken Hon, scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said on Tuesday that the lava was flowing “not super-fast” at less than 1mph, though the exact speed was not yet clear.
It was moving downhill about six miles from Saddle Road, which connects the east and west sides of the island. The flow was likely to slow down about four miles from the road when it hits flatter ground.
It is not clear when or if the lava will reach the road. It could hit flatter ground later on Wednesday, according to Mr Hon.
The smell of volcanic gases and sulphur was thick in the air on Tuesday along Saddle Road, where people were watching a wide stream of lava creep closer. Clouds cleared to reveal a large plume of gas and ash rising from an open summit vent above the flow.
Governor David Ige issued an emergency proclamation.
“We’re thankful the lava flow is not affecting residential areas at this time, allowing schools and businesses to remain open,” he said in a statement.
“I’m issuing this Emergency Proclamation now to allow responders to respond quickly or limit access, if necessary, as the eruption continues.”
Mr Hon said lava crossed the Mauna Loa Observatory access road Monday night and cut off power to the facility. It could move toward the county seat of Hilo, he added, but that could take a week or longer.
Meanwhile, scientists are trying to measure the gas emitted from the eruption.
The eruption is drawing visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is open 24 hours a day.
Visitors there are currently able to witness two eruptive events: the glow from Kilauea’s lava lake and lava from a Mauna Loa fissure.
People in the northern Hilo area closest to the Mauna Loa eruption remain cautious, but not overly scared.
Lindsay Cloyd, 33, said it makes her a bit anxious, but she feels safe and is also in awe of the forces of nature happening in her backyard.
Originally from Utah and living in Hawaii for only a few years, she has never been part of an eruption before.
“I feel so humbled and small,” she said, adding that “it’s a profound, incredible experience to get to be here while that’s happening”.