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Mauna Loa lava no longer imminent threat to Hawaii highway

HONOLULU — Lava from the world’s largest volcano is no longer an imminent threat to the main highway across the Big Island of Hawaii, scientists said Thursday, a development that was a welcome reprieve for motorists who depend on the road.

Mauna Loa was still erupting Thursday morning, but the lava that was feeding the flow heading toward the crucial road has been cut off, said David Phillips, deputy scientist-in-charge at U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The blocked supply of lava to the flow front is likely because of a reduced production rate, Phillips said.

“That’s good news for us,” Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said. Still, county officials said they will stay on the alert — because scientists say things could always change.

Lava from Mauna Loa, which began erupting Nov. 27 after being quiet for 38 years, was 1.76 miles (2.83 kilometers) from Saddle Road, also known as Route 200 or Daniel K. Inouye Highway, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

“So just to emphasize, there is no current threat to any island communities or infrastructure at this time,” Phillips said.

Last week, officials said the earliest the lava could hit the road was one week, prompting motorists to brace for upheaval from a possible closure that could add hours to commute times on alternate coastal routes. But, as expected, the lava slowed considerably in recent days as it moved across flatter ground, leaving scientists unable to estimate a clearer timeline.

Phillips said the active fissure is still generating lava flows, but they’ll be localized around the fissure.

If there are additional flows in the channel, it’s very unlikely that supply from the top will push the flow front ahead to become a threat, said Frank Trusdell, a geologist with the volcano observatory.

“So right now, we don’t expect that the new lava coming out on the surface to be able to replenish the supply to the flows that are closest to Daniel K. Inouye Highway,” he said.

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