Hawaii visi­tors mostly un­af­fected by erup­tion

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - NATION - By Jeanne Cooper Jeanne Cooper is a for­mer Chron­i­cle travel ed­i­tor. Email: travel@sfchron­i­cle.com

An ash-laden erup­tion Thurs­day may have prospec­tive trav­el­ers to the Aloha State won­der­ing what to ex­pect this sum­mer.

The an­swer in most cases is sim­ple: the usual.

Flights to Hawaii’s six main is­lands re­main un­af­fected. The cur­rent “code red” avi­a­tion ad­vi­sory ap­plies only to the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of the erup­tion, which is not in the flight path of in­ter­is­land or transPa­cific air­craft.

All lodg­ings, with a few ex­cep­tions in re­mote ar­eas of the Big Is­land, where the erup­tion oc­curred, and a pre­vi­ously flood-dam­aged stretch of the North Shore of Kauai, re­main open. Most of Hawaii Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park closed in­def­i­nitely May 11, along with its two ho­tels, “out of an abun­dance of cau­tion,” ac­cord­ing to park spokes­woman Jes­sica Fer­ra­cane.

To limit wa­ter use and ease evac­u­a­tion efforts, Hawaii County of­fi­cials have also called for the tem­po­rary clo­sure of scores of va­ca­tion rentals in the lower Puna dis­trict, where a se­ries of fis­sures in two res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods be­gan erupt­ing May 3.

“Other than some very in­ter­est­ing and unique vol­canic ac­tiv­ity that we haven’t seen for many years, it’s still life as usual for most of us on the is­land, and we’re still wel­com­ing all of our visi­tors to come to the is­land,” said Ross Birch, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Is­land of Hawaii Visi­tors Bureau.

Although vol­canic haze has been de­tected as far north as Oahu, air qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing has re­ported “good” or “moder­ate” lev­els of sul­fur diox­ide and par­tic­u­lates across the state since the erup­tion be­gan. Ash­fall from Thurs­day’s erup­tion was ex­pected to fall to the south and east of Ki­lauea, tem­po­rar­ily af­fect­ing res­i­dents in the area but with lit­tle or no im­pact on most visi­tors.

“If you do have health con­cerns or res­pi­ra­tory issues, stay to the more fa­vor­able sides of the is­land — the north, north­east and north­west,” Birch said.

All tours and ac­tiv­i­ties are on­go­ing, with the ex­cep­tion of those that visit the na­tional park or lower Puna, in­clud­ing the town of Kala­pana, cov­ered by lava in 1990. Visi­tors hop­ing to get close to the lava erup­tions in Puna will def­i­nitely be dis­ap­pointed, Birch said.

“Al­most the en­tire cor­ner of the is­land is shut down, and it’s mon­i­tored by Na­tional Guard and po­lice to re­strict it to res­i­dents,” Birch ex­plained. “A vis­i­tor would also have a hard time wan­der­ing into a place they shouldn’t be.”

And de­spite the tragic loss of homes in Puna and the in­con­ve­nience to 2,000 res­i­dents who were evac­u­ated, there is a pos­i­tive note to the erup­tion for visi­tors, Birch said.

“The ash­fall is go­ing to make for some spec­tac­u­lar sun­sets,” he said. “Any­time we have a lit­tle more ash in the air, and the fur­ther it goes south­west of us, we do get a lit­tle treat.”

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