New lava viewing area opens in Hawaii, days after large lava delta collapse

Rob Ely, left, and John Moraes, rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, create a rope line to outline the area safe along the coastal cliffs. The route has been opened for visitors who want to see the lava flow firsthand. (Janice Wei/National Park Service)

VOLCANO, Hawaii -- The National Park Service has created a new lava viewing area on the Big Island after a large section of lava crumbled into the ocean on New Year’s Eve.

Hawaii Volcanoes National park closed its original public viewing area after the Saturday incident, reported CBS affiliate KGMB. Park rangers said 22 acres of a lava delta collapsed over several hours and set off waves that eroded the coastal cliffs where the viewing area was located.

“Those 40-foot waves that were generated from the breakoff started to erode the coastal cliff section, so a lot of the coast cliff area that was out there, the former viewing area, all of that fell into the ocean. It’s a very, very dangerous situation out there,” said Jessica Ferracane, public affairs specialist for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The Kamokuna ocean entry within the park is currently off-limits to hikers, but the lava flow can be seen from tour boats.

Epic Lava tour company owner John Tarson said the current conditions are “absolutely stunning” and “a show you may never see again.”

The park said Monday that no one was injured in the Saturday collapse, which sent showers of volcanic rock into the air. But there were some close calls: five visitors ran out to the coastal cliffs despite the closure, and rangers chased after them and forced them to turn back. Within 15 minutes, the area they had been standing on fell into the ocean.

Lava deltas are formed when lava enters the ocean and builds new land on loose and unstable substrate. In addition to the potential for collapse, such areas are dangerous because they can create a corrosive plume of hydrochloric acid and volcanic particles.

Jessica Ferracane, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman, said the collapse generated 40-foot waves.

“It’s a very, very dangerous situation out there,” she said.

During the collapse, the lava viewing area was closed. But despite that, five visitors ran out to the coastal cliffs. Rangers chased after them and forced them to turn back. Within 15 minutes, the section of cliff where they were standing crashed into the ocean.

“When the rocks fell, it created some very substantial waves. The water actually reached the top of that cliff from the waves. Then people started to panic,” said California visitor Brooks Taylor.

Madame Pele is already starting over, creating new land once more.

“There’s a really fast-moving river of lava flowing out of the ruptured lava tube into the sea, creating a new delta,” said Warren Fintz, owner of Eppix Adventures Photography.

Lava deltas are formed when lava enters the ocean and builds new land on loose and unstable substrate. In addition to potentially collapsing, it can produce a highly corrosive plume of hydrochloric acid and volcanic particles that could be detrimental to the health.


There's a new route to see spewing lava in Hawaii. But it's long, filled with sharp lava and challenging.

Less than 72 hours after 30 acres of volcanic rock collapsed into the sea, a new lava viewing area has opened at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. However, the trek to the site is tough.

Over several hours on New Year’s Eve, the chunk of land known as a “lava delta” — the point at which red hot lava turns rock hard when it reaches the cool, ocean water — fractured and crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

The dramatic collapse created tsunami-like waves and sent plumes of rock and toxic steam soaring hundreds of feet into the sky.

Park rangers on Tuesday created a new viewing area — the other one crumpled on Saturday — and have put up ropes and signs designating where it’s considered safe for visitors to observe the flow of molten rock from the Puu Oo lava tube. The remote location within the national park became an overnight visitor attraction when streams of red lava reached the ocean last July.

Scientists from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory helped rangers scour the remaining land to determine a safe perimeter for tourists. The observatory provides regular updates on eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. Ironically, January is Volcano Awareness Month on Hawaii Island.

A park spokesperson reminds visitors that reaching the new observation point isn’t easy. The shortest hike is from the east edge of the park near the town of Kalapana. The 4.2-mile journey — that’s one way — will have you walking on uneven, often-sharp lava.

Tips on hiking within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are provided online.

People with respiratory problems may wish to avoid the trip due to the acidic gas belching from the lava. The local air quality is regularly monitored and reported online. Due to the gases billowing into the air, restrictions remain on air traffic above the site.


Huge Lava Collapse Rings in Hawaii's New Year

A lava delta — an expanse of unstable rocky terrain formed by cooled lava — in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park collapsed suddenly into the ocean on New Year's Eve, creating a spectacle of volcanic ash, steam and gas to mark the end of 2016.

The 26-acre (11 hectares) delta was created by a recent and massive lava flow from the Kilauea volcano pouring into the sea. The feature's collapse produced towering plumes of ash and sent large waves washing over and eroding the nearby sea cliff, according to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). [Explosive Images: Hawaii's Kilauea Erupts for 30 Years]

Loud cracks throughout the area were audible after the collapse, which destroyed a public viewing area, park rangers reported in a statement.

After the explosive event, the Kamokuna ocean entry, where the lava met the sea, was closed to the public, and a temporary flight restriction prohibited air travel 1,000 feet (305 meters) above ground level, NPS officials said.

No one was harmed when the delta gave way, though the power of the fracturing rock was considerable, said Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando.

"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," Orlando said in the statement.

"Had anyone been close by on land, water or air, lives would have surely been lost," she added.

However, several tourists experienced an uncomfortably close call hours after the delta collapsed, when they snuck past a barricade to get a closer look at the lava.

Around 7 p.m. local time on Dec. 31, hours after the initial collapse, five park visitors crossed a closure line placed by park rangers and made their way toward the cliffs. Two park rangers chased the visitors down and returned them to safety; the cliff where they had been standing dropped into the sea 15 minutes later.

"It was a really close brush with death for them," Eruption Crew Ranger Travis Delimont said in a statement. "Luckily, they finally listened to us and turned around in time."

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