Volcano costs Hawaii big tourism bucks
PEOPLE nixing vacations to Hawaii's Big Island has cost the tourism industry millions of dollars as the area's top attraction, Kilauea volcano, keeps spewing lava.
Cancellations from May through July have hit at least US$5 million ($6.7 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 per cent.
A handful of cruise ships have also decided not to come into port even in Kona on the west side of the island, about 130km from the volcano.
This is the "first leak we're seeing out of the bucket," Mr 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 to 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 defence officials warned vents in the southeast section of the Lanipuna Gardens neighbourhood were releasing levels of sulfur dioxide that pose an immediate danger to anyone nearby. The gas may cause choking and make people unable to breathe, the county said as it warned people in the area to leave.
The National Weather Service has warned residents of "light ashfall" throughout the day in Kau, the island's southernmost district, after a burst of volcanic emissions in the morning.
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 kilometres into the sky.
A fissure that opened on Sunday led authorities to order 10 people to flee their homes, Hawaii County managing director Wil Okabe said. Overall, nearly 2000 people have been told to evacuate since May 3, and lava has destroyed more than two dozen homes.
The US 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 three kilometres away. No homes or roads were threatened by the flow.