The military says it is now better prepared for any potential disasters that are caused by the current lava flow.
The U.S. Secretary of Defense approved Governor David Ige’s request Wednesday, to appoint Brigadier General Kenneth Hara to dual status commander for the emergency in Puna. Meaning the General can now command both the National Guard and active military forces.
That means if a disaster were to happen, Hara could request resources from both State and Federal military.
The General says 133 National Guardsmen are currently on duty in Puna. Another 1,200 soldiers are training at Pohakuloa along with nine black hawks.
Hara could request those resources or any other capabilities in Hawaii that may become needed.
“What’s challenging for us is what is going to be the number or the population that we need to evacuate by air. As long as the roads are open and there’s a voluntary evacuation, we’re working with the county to see what the numbers are going to be. Unless there’s something catastrophic, we may not even need the air support,” Hara said.
The National Guard says it’s preparing for the possibility of evacuating a thousand people from lower Puna as a worst-case scenario.
General Hara is the same general that was appointed by Gov. Ige to oversee a review of the State’s Emergency Management Agency following January’s false missile alert.
The last time a dual status commander had been appointed in Hawaii was in 2011 for APEC.
“The ash plume emissions are getting stronger in intensity,” said Steve Brantley, deputy scientist-in-charge at HVO. “This is following the script we’ve been talking about for the last few days.”
Tuesday’s ash emission also appeared to have ejected rocks up to 2 feet across within the caldera floor. Larger rocks could be ejected farther if more pressure builds up in the magma column.
Parts of Hawaii Island got a taste of sulfur dioxide Wednesday morning as a disruption of trade winds caused emissions from the volcanic activity to be swept more inland. Those conditions are expected to ease today, though gas emissions remain dangerously high near the fissures around the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions.
Satellite Image of Hawaii Volcano from International Space Station
Magno said the Hawaii Fire Department has conducted at least three rescues of people who found themselves at risk as they went back to their homes in evacuated areas.
Meanwhile, Civil Defense officials continue to work on deactivating three geothermal wells at Puna Geothermal Venture, which has been encroached upon by the fissures.
David Damby, a research chemist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said quenching has been occurring at the wells, which involves filling them with cold water to prevent unabated releases of hydrogen sulfide. He said caps will then be placed on the wells to “kill” them. Each cap will take a day to install.
Increased earthquake activity and the potential for a larger eruption prompted the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff to relocate from their offices at the caldera rim to the University of Hawaii at Hilo, said Michelle Coombs, Alaska Volcano Observatory lead scientist, who is assisting her colleagues in Hawaii with media briefings. She said the staff can monitor the volcano remotely.
Kilauea’s summit was rocked by shallow earthquakes Wednesday as the volcano’s caldera inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park subsides along with its magma chamber. The largest earthquake yesterday Wednesday, May 16th) was a M4.4
The shaking produced minor cracks on Highway 11 near the park entrance and caused damage to other facilities at the park, which remains closed because of the risk of a large steam-driven explosion.
Geologists say the floor of the caldera, the large crater that contains Halema‘uma‘u and its former lava lake, the land around the volcano has subsided 3 feet as its vertical column of molten rock drops in response to the eruption on the East Rift Zone in lower Puna.
The personnel are in full uniform and using military vehicles as they patrol and assist with evacuation and security in Puna. Residents may see also checkpoints assisting the Hawaii Police Department or on patrols in specific neighborhoods.
The 93rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, a 22-person unit that specializes in chemical and biological response and detection, will be assisting Hawaii Civil Defense. The 93rd sent six members to Hawaii Island in response to sulfur dioxide near the fissures.
“Because there have been reports during previous events of civilians wearing camouflage and impersonating military members to gain access to evacuated homes, the Hawaii National Guard is reminding the public that soldiers and airmen will be in military vehicles and carrying their military IDs,” HI-EMA said. “If there is a question at any time whether or not a person is with the Hawaii National Guard, look for their vehicle and ask to see their military ID.”