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Delta collapse temporarily closes lava viewing

Updated: 
January 3, 2017 - 8:18am

A large section of the 26-acre lava delta formed by the 61g lava flow collapsed into the ocean around 2:45 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, launching showers of volcanic rock into the air, and creating a flurry of large waves that eroded away a portion of the older sea cliff and viewing area.

As a result, the Kamokuna ocean entry within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will remain closed today as park rangers and U.S. Geolovical Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists survey the area. Rangers on duty New Year’s Day reported the former viewing area is gone, and that loud cracks continue to be heard throughout the unstable area.

Although park rangers had temporarily closed the Kamokuna lava viewing area, five visitors ducked beneath the white rope closure line and made a beeline for the coastal cliffs around 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Eruption Crew Ranger Travis Delimont and a co-worker had to chase after them before they turned around. Within 15 minutes, the section of cliff where the visitors were standing crashed into the ocean.

“It was a really close brush with death for them,” Ranger Delimont said. “Luckily, they finally listened to us and turned around in time,” he said.

The lava viewing area will remain closed until it is determined safe to reopen. The County of Hawaii also closed the Kalapana access to the park. Authorities said Tuesday they hope to open the new viewing area by noon Tuesday. The Kamokuna ocean entry within the park is currently off-limits to hikers, but the lava flow can be seen from tour boats.

“Fortunately, there were no aircraft or boats reported in the area at the time of the collapse, nor were any visitors on the delta itself, which is closed for public safety,” said Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando. “Had anyone been close by on land, water or air, lives would have surely been lost,” she said.

There is a temporary flight restriction of 1,000 feet above ground level at the Kamokuna ocean entry.

Lava deltas are extremely hazardous volcanic features and are formed when lava enters the ocean and builds new land on loose and unstable substrate, according to USGS. In addition to the threat of collapse, lava entering the ocean produces a highly corrosive plume of hydrochloric acid and volcanic particles that irritate the lungs, skin and eyes. Visitors are urged to stay out of closed areas and heed all posted warning signs.

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