by CALEB JONES and SOPHIA YAN, Associated Press | May 15, 2018
PAHOA, Hawaii (AP) - People nixing vacations to Hawaii's Big island have cost the tourism industry millions of dollars as the top attraction, Kilauea Volcano, keeps spewing lava. Cancellations from May through July have hit at least $5 million, said Ross Birch, executive director of the island's tourism board. The booking pace for hotels and other activities, such as tours for lava viewing, zip lines and glass-bottom boats, have fallen by 50 percent. A handful of cruise ships have also decided not to come into port even in Kona on the west side of the island, about 80 miles away from the volcano. This is the "first leak we're seeing out of the bucket," Birch said.
Tourism is one of Hawaii's biggest industries and a big part of the local economy. The industry grew the fastest on the Big Island last year compared with other islands in the archipelago, pulling in about $2.5 billion in visitor spending.
Most of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park remains closed to visitors due to ongoing seismic activity and the possibility of an explosion at the summit. On Monday, another fissure spewing lava and unhealthy gas opened up, and a crack in the Earth that emerged a day earlier was sending molten rock on a slow run for the ocean, officials said.
Civil-defense officials warned that vents in the southeast section of the Lanipuna Gardens neighborhood were releasing levels of sulfur dioxide that pose an immediate danger to anyone nearby. The gas might cause choking, making people unable to breathe, the county said as it warned those in the area to leave. (Click here for more on the air quality on the island.)
The National Weather Service warned residents yesterday of "light ashfall" throughout the day in Kau, the island's southernmost district, after a burst of volcanic emissions around 9 a.m.
Nearly 20 fissures have opened since the Kilauea volcano started erupting 12 days ago, and officials warn it may soon blow its top with a massive steam eruption that would shoot boulders and ash miles into the sky. A fissure that opened Sunday led authorities to order 10 people to flee their homes, Hawaii County managing director Wil Okabe said. Overall, nearly 2,000 people have been told to evacuate since May 3, and lava has destroyed more than two dozen homes.
The U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said the flow from the crack that emerged Sunday was heading on a path that would take it to the ocean, about 2 miles away. No homes or roads were threatened by the flow. Lava on Sunday spread across hundreds of yards of private land, and loud explosions rocked the neighborhood not far from the Leilani Estates subdivision, where more than a dozen other active vents opened over the past week.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Sinco Kelleher contributed to this report.