Hawaii volcano costs tourism industry millions

AP, PAHOA, Hawaii

Wed, May 16, 2018 - Page 10

People nixing vacations to Hawaii’s Big Island has cost the tourism industry millions of US dollars as the top attraction, Kilauea volcano, keeps spewing lava.

Cancelations from this month through July have hit at least US$5 million, said Ross Birch, executive director of the island’s tourism board.

The booking pace for hotels and other activities, such as tours for lava viewing, zip lines and glass bottom boats have fallen 50 percent.

A handful of cruise ships have also decided not to sail into port even in Kona on the west side of the island, about 129km away from the volcano.

This is the “first leak we’re seeing out of the bucket,” Birch said.

Tourism is one of Hawaii’s biggest industries and a big part of the local economy.

The industry grew the fastest on Big Island last year compared with other islands in the archipelago, pulling in about US$2.5 billion in visitor spending.

Most of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park remains closed to visitors due to ongoing seismic activity and the possibility of an explosion at the summit.

On Monday, another fissure spewing lava and unhealthy gas opened up, and a crack that emerged a day earlier was sending molten rock on a slow run for the ocean, officials said.

Civil defense officials warned vents in the southeast section of the Lanipuna Gardens neighborhood were releasing levels of sulfur dioxide that pose an immediate danger to anyone nearby.

The gas could cause choking and make people unable to breathe, the county said as it warned people in the area to leave.

The National Weather Service warned residents of “light ashfall” throughout the day in Kau, the island’s southernmost district, after a burst of volcanic emissions at about 9am on Monday.

Nearly 20 fissures have opened since the Kilauea volcano started erupting 12 days ago and officials warn it could soon blow its top with a massive steam eruption that would shoot boulders and ash into the sky.

A fissure that opened on Sunday led authorities to order 10 people to flee their homes, Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe said.

Overall, nearly 2,000 people have been told to evacuate since May 3 and lava has destroyed more than two dozen homes.

The US Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said the flow from the crack that emerged on Sunday was heading on a path that would take it to the ocean, about 3km away.

No homes or roads were threatened by the flow.

Lava on Sunday spread across hundreds of meters of private land and loud explosions rocked the neighborhood not far from the Leilani Estates subdivision, where more than a dozen other active vents opened over the past week.