Now that Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has erupted officials are asking tourists to avoid the Puna area of the Big Island, though travel to Hawaii is still possible.
The Kilauea volcano, which started spewing lava, ash and toxic gases, more than three weeks ago, has resulted in unpredictable lava flows that have forced the evacuation of more than 2,000 residents and the destruction of more than forty homes.
Also, as the lava mixes with salt water, a steam cloud called laze is created that contains hydrochloric acid and particles of glass. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says laze is a "hot, corrosive, gas mixture” that can create "hazy and noxious conditions” and warns people to stay away from the areas where the laze cloud is present.
For those near the affected areas, county representatives have distributed breathing masks since sulfur dioxide levels have tripled as a result of the eruptions.
The National Park Service, which has closed the majority of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park “due to ongoing seismic activity, summit deflation, and a possible steam explosion,” has added that most of Big Island remains unaffected and is safe to visit, though tourists are advised to steer clear of the Puna region.
Last Saturday, a man was injured when a molten lava rock hit him while he was on the balcony of his home. The rock “hit him on the shin and shattered everything from there down on his leg," said Janet Snyder, spokesperson for the Hawaii County mayor.
The volcano erupted twice in the last week and scientists cannot estimate the duration of the eruptions, though over the last few days, lava flow has increased in speed and intensity with approximately 23 volcano fissures opening.
"At any time, activity may again become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles very near the vent," the USGS stated. "Communities downwind should be prepared for ashfall as long as this activity continues."
Despite the catastrophic effects of the eruption, Hawaii Governor David Ige insists that it is safe to visit the islands.
“The experts are telling us there is no danger from the eruptions to anyone outside the areas that have been evacuated. There is no threat of a tsunami. Air quality is being closely studied and is of most concern in the immediate area inside where the volcanic activity is taking place.
"Our foremost concern is for the residents in the affected communities. They are receiving all available support from government agencies and officials to cope with the volcano activity and carry on with their lives as best as possible.
”Visitors to Hawai'i can be assured that the volcanic activity is having no effect whatsoever on the other islands, O'ahu, Maui, Moloka'i, Lāna'i and Kaua'i. Visitors can book their trips comfortable in the knowledge that their vacation experience will provide all the enjoyment they expect when coming to our beautiful islands,” said Ige.
Cruises to Big Island have been put on hold, yet tourists may find affordable rooms on the island as hotels have begun slashing prices. Authorities report that prices have fallen nearly 50 percent since the volcanic activity began on May 3.
The closure of the national park, which is the state's most popular tourist destination, has cost the island $166 million, the National Park Service said. The lost revenue increases to $222 million when you take into account the 2,000 park jobs that have been affected. Tourism accounts for more than 30 percent of private sector jobs in Hawaii.