What’s The Big Deal About This Volcano?

We have all see the startling images coming out of Hawaii as Mount Kilauea wreaks havoc on the region. Mandatory evacuations have displaced residents of the Big Island as lava slowly engulfs everything in its path.

But the eruption is slow right? This isn’t the dramatic eruptions that most people traditionally think of (like a Mount St. Helens). Mount Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983 after all, so why is everyone freaking out this time?

  1. Mount Kilauea is a shield volcano. Unlike Mount St. Helens, shield volcanos are more domed with long sloping sides and generally doesn’t produce large explosions. Typically, the lava from Mount Kilauea flows underground in channels out to sea. This time, however, the lava is spewing up to the surface.
  2. Lava can pop up in unexpected places. You may have seen the images from Leilani Estates where molten rock shot up into the air preceded by hot steam and noxious gasses. These fissures release built up magma to the surface, sometimes in a violent fashion.
  3. The air isn’t safe. When a volcano erupts high levels of sulfur dioxide is released into the air. Sulfur dioxide is really dangerous and no mask that you or I can buy will make it safe.
  4. There are earthquakes. A 6.9 magnitude quake has already struck and several others are occurring each day. According to the USGS, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake is classified as a VII-IX which can cause significant damage even in well-built structures. These recent earthquakes caused fissures to form near neighborhoods.
  5. Rain can be deadly. Did you know that there is often a lot of rain, lightning and thunder during an eruption? When rain hits lava, it can cause clouds of localized steam to develop that are toxic. It can also trigger dangerous mudflows and rockfalls. In addition, sulfur dioxide can cause acid rain to fall on the mountainside.

From a recovery perspective, the homeowners have a long road ahead. First, it is completely unknown how long the volcano will erupt. Second, there is no way to know when it will be safe to return. Finally, is no such thing as volcano insurance coverage, it is simply too rare of an event to warrant coverage. While some policies that would cover this type of damage exist, they are rare and expensive.

It is truly incredible what the officials on the Big Island have been able to accomplish, there have been no known injuries as a result of this eruption. While a structure can be rebuilt or repaired, lives cannot and Hawaii will continue to persevere.