Tuesday, January 2, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 2, 2001

Kilauea's 18-year eruption far from longest, experts say

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawaii — In geologic terms, 18 years is hardly a blink of an eye. In human terms, the continuing eruption at Kilauea volcano on the flank of Mauna Loa has been an ever-present and sometimes threatening force of nature.

The eruption at Kilauea's Puu Oo that started Jan. 3, 1983, has claimed 187 structures, most of them homes, and lured an unknown number of people to their deaths. There is no indication when it will end.

Flows have obliterated the Chain of Craters Road and made it impossible to reach the eruption from the east. Churches, heiau, Native Hawaiian homesteads, picturesque Kalapana and its gorgeous black-sand surfing beach at Kaim¬ all have been overrun by lava.

Last year, three structures were destroyed, including one last month in the Royal Gardens subdivision.

Three people died in 2000 while visiting the eruption. Kirk Kiyota, 43, a tourist from Colorado, died of an apparent heart attack while hiking in the area Sept. 30. On Nov. 5, two hikers were found dead near the flow front.

Autopsies on Nancy Everett, 41, of Volcano, and Ivan Klein, 42, of Washington, D.C., did not determine a cause of death. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park rangers are hoping laboratory tests of tissue samples will provide a clue to how the hikers perished.

"We may never known what happened," said park spokeswoman Mardie Lane.

Others have died by falling into lava cracks on illegal night hikes, or in air crashes while seeking the best view of the spectacular lava show. A Kona photographer disappeared while he was shooting from a cooling lava bench, which collapsed into the ocean. Heat and exhaustion have claimed other lives.

Although the volcano was relatively inactive from the 1920s to the late 50s, Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory scientists say Kilauea was erupting 48.3 percent of the past century.

In contrast, the more threatening Mauna Loa erupted only 1.3 percent over the same period.

Hualalai in North Kona last erupted in 1801 but is still considered active. Maui’s Haleakala last produced a lava flow in the 1770s and is expected to erupt sometime this century, most likely on its southern flank near Makena, according to Don Swanson, scientist in charge at the observatory.

Volcanologist Christina Heliker, who has watched and interpreted the current eruption since its second year, said scientific tools used in the study of volcanoes have been improved.

For those who use the word "longest" to describe the current Pu’u Oo eruption, Heliker pointed out that the distinction is based on an "extremely short written history."

Using radiocarbon data, scientists now believe the volcano’s Ailau flow, which began in 1410, lasted about 60 years.

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