Kīlauea, the youngest volcano on the Island of Hawai‘i, continues to make headlines as lava flows to the surface and settles on the island’s southeastern coast in the Puna district.
At Hawaiian Airlines, we have been closely monitoring the situation to keep our flights operating safely, and to determine how we can best help the community – including our own Hilo-based colleagues who work at Hilo International Airport (ITO).
Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes for a reason: it’s been erupting since 1983, and as lava cools and hardens, the Big Island has been constantly expanding with some 570 acres of new land created during this period, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. So, what’s new this time? The eruption has intensified in recent weeks, with magma pouring from dozens of fissures carving a new path through more than seven square miles.
While the impacted area currently represents about 0.2 percent of the entire island, the lava flow has been tragic for hundreds of residents who have been displaced. We have partnered with several organizations to help take care of our Puna neighbors, deployed volunteers to serve meals, and supported relief efforts with donations and flight assistance to first responders and transportation of needed supplies.
To learn more about the ongoing eruption, we recently sat down with Luana Gibson (LG), our ITO general manager and a Hawaiian Airlines employee for 20 years, and Customer Service Agent Michael Quihano (MQ), who’s been with us for 14 years.
Continue reading to get their insight and experiences relating to Kīlauea. You can also learn more about our flight operations and how Hawaiian Airlines is assisting guests and the affected Puna community by reading Kilauea 101: Frequently Asked Questions.
Where do you live on the Island of Hawai‘i and in relation to Kīlauea volcano?
LG: The Island of Hawai‘i is my home. I live approximately 26 miles from Kilauea Crater in Mountain View just below Volcano National Park.
MQ: I live in Kalapana, approximately nine miles from the Kīlauea Crater.
Have you, your family or friends been directly impacted by the eruption?
LG: There is a sadness within the families and communities on the East Rift Zone, which is where the lava is actively cleansing and building the Island of Hawai‘i. Many of my friends, whom I consider a part of my ‘ohana, live in this area, including Seaview Estates, Kapoho, and Kalapana in Puna. Every day, I see much effort and service being contributed by other communities, businesses, friends and families who are assisting those in need.
MQ: We were impacted by an earthquake first, which created road cracks on one of the island’s major highways. This highway was eventually closed. We then had to use alternate routes, which added 40 minutes to a 30-minute work commute.
How has the volcano had an impact on your overall community?
LG: The area currently affected by the volcanic activity is relatively small, when you consider our island has more than 4,000 square miles. Undoubtedly, there is devastation to people’s lives such as our local farmers located in the active lava zone. The impact does not stop there, as local businesses that rely largely on tourism have been negatively affected. We understand travelers may be worried, given the amazing imagery of the lava, but the island remains open for business and it’s an ideal time to witness the history and wonder of how our islands grow.
MQ: As you can see in the news and on social media, the impact Tūtū (aunty) Pele (many residents refer to Pele, the Fire Goddess in Hawaiian mythology, when speaking about Kilauea) has created is just unexplainable! From people losing all that they had, to relocating…the list goes on. However, as a community, there is a lot of love that we all have for this place that we are all so fortunate to call home. We are all there for each other.
Kīlauea has been erupting for over three decades now. What is the general reaction of the community and how have people been responding to this recent activity?
LG: We are taking it one day at a time as the eruption continues to unfold. The residential areas, fruit and flower farms, and other business – all of which were greatly affected – provided employment and services to our tourism industry. Most importantly, it has affected individual families. However, there are many “unsung heroes” who continue to contribute and support every way they can with love and service.
For decades, visitors have been drawn to the island of Hawai’i to watch the steam rise from the crater’s vents while driving by the crater rim through the beautiful and lush Volcano National Park. Many also take ocean tours and hikes to watch lava entering the ocean. One of my favorite memories was hiking to the cliffs in Kalapana and watching the red, glowing lava kiss the sea, while a Tutu who sat nearby wove a haku lei (a type of lei worn on the head like a crown) and a local brother named Puna played and sang beautiful Hawaiian songs.
MQ: Long-time residents will remain in their homes until it becomes a safety issue and we are presented with a mandatory evacuation. Many of those who are going through this for the first time have relocated to another island, or found temporary shelter.
As you mentioned earlier, there’s been a lot of confusion about whether it’s safe for travelers to visit the Island of Hawai‘i, particularly the east side in Hilo. Are you able to share an update on the current conditions throughout the entire island?
LG: A majority of the island is operating in a business-as-usual manner. Every day the volcano erupts is another day in our lives, and we continue to live the best we can. If vog (meaning volcanic fog) settles in any one spot, it will usually only stay until the winds change…which can sometimes occur within minutes. The air is clear most of the time because of Hawai‘i’s trade winds.
MQ: I can only speak from my experiences working in Hilo and living in Kalapana. There have only been two times where the vog was bad, but it usually only lasts for a little bit and the trade winds come and blow it away. As for the lava flow, it is currently flowing into the ocean in the Kapoho area of Puna, so visitors should not be worried. (Guests should be aware of Civil Defense warnings and refrain from approaching hazardous areas near the eruption.)
What is your piece of advice for guests who may be worried about the volcano and are considering postponing their trip to Hawai‘i?
LG: It's difficult to explain how life is here. Family and friends all over the world are concerned about us, but we're OK! Today we had beautiful blue skies. Every day is different.
We have so many other beautiful places to see and the Island of Hawai‘i is a true Hawaiian experience. I highly recommend:
- Visiting Umauma Falls & Botanical Gardens, which has a zip-line adventure over waterfalls, ravines, and the lush beauty of our island
- Driving over and in between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa Mountains
- Taking a dip in the Hilo shoreline tide pools
- Stopping at Pa‘ani Ranch
- Exploring the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center
- Stopping at a local restaurant in the area, like Hilo Bay Café or Café Pesto
MQ: We can only educate our guest with our local knowledge and experience. The most important thing I would say is that Hawai‘i Island remains a beautiful and safe destination. Currently, the flow is only affecting the lower Puna side of the island. It is a sight to see, but there are so many other wonderful places to explore! I recommend:
- Visiting Mauna Kea (always check road conditions before visiting the summit)
- Driving to Hilo’s Rainbow Falls
- Walking through Akaka Falls State Park
Looking for more travel recommendations? Guests can get a local’s perspective on Island of Hawai‘i activities via Hawaiian Airlines’ Island Guides. Click here to start planning your adventure.