Eruption of Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano boosts Big Island tourism during slow season

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The recent eruption of Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano has boosted tourism for the Big Island town during what is typically a slow time of the year.

The Associated Press reported thousands of visitors have traveled to the city of Hilo to see the world's largest active volcano after it erupted Sunday night for the first time in 38 years, selling out hotels in and around the area.

Marian Somalinog, front desk staff at the Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, told the AP they are sold out until after Christmas. She attributed the sudden increase to the fact that the bright orange glow of the molten rock can be seen in the distance from parts of the hotel.

Helicopter tours of Mauna Loa are also booming as tourists and journalists hope to see the volcano in action.

HAWAII'S MAUNA LOA: JAW-DROPPING IMAGES SHOW VOLCANO’S ERUPTION FROM SPACE

A photographer takes pictures of the Mauna Loa volcano as it erupts Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, near Hilo, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Despite the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas being Hawaii's slow season, thousands of cars have reportedly created traffic jams on Route 200 over the past week as travelers rush to witness the volcano's first eruption in decades.

Also known as the Saddle Road, Route 200 connects Hilo on the east side of the Big Island to Kailua-Kona on the west side.

Volcanic flows do pose a potential future threat, but as of Friday morning, the lava is not threatening any homes or communities and no evacuation orders have been issued. Because of this, onlookers can witness the rare moment without being in danger.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said many visitors are coming to see Mauna Loa, but are unaware that Kilauea, a smaller volcano nearby, is also erupting. She added that both volcanoes can be seen at the same time from multiple spots near Kilauea's caldera.

"That hasn’t happened since 1984. It’s a really special time to be here," Ferracane said.

HAWAII'S MAUNA LOA VOLCANO ERUPTS FOR FIRST TIME IN 38 YEARS CAUSING CONCERN, ATTRACTING ONLOOKERS

A man talks on a phone in his car alongside Saddle Road as the Mauna Loa volcano erupts Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, near Hilo, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Saddle Road, which is outside the national park, is currently the hot spot to watch the volcano, but that may change as lava slowly creeps toward the area.

Ken Hon, the scientist in charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said the flow has "slowed considerably" and was 3.3 miles south of the major roadway as of Thursday.

Hon said at its current rate, it will be at least a week before the lava arrives near Saddle Road, but they don't know which direction it will ultimately flow.

HAWAII'S MAUNA LOA ERUPTION: STUNNING VIDEO SHOWS LAVA SPEWING INTO AIR

Lava erupts from Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, near Hilo, Hawaii. ( AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation Monday night allowing first responders to arrive quickly or limit access as needed. If lava does end up crossing the highway, the Hawaii National Guard can help plan for alternatives and try to set up bypass routes, the governor said.

Residents have been told to be prepared in the event of a worst-case scenario. 

Though there is no immediate danger, Hawaii County Civil Defense opened shelters because it had reports of people evacuating from along the coast on their own initiative.

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A man looks on as lava erupts from Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, near Hilo, Hawaii.  (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Mauna Loa, which means "Long Mountain" in Hawaiian, last erupted in 1984. The current eruption marks its 34th since written record keeping began in 1843. 

Its smaller neighbor, Kilauea, has been continuously erupting since September 2021.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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