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Lava no longer imminent threat to Hawaii highway

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FILE - A man talks on a phone in his car alongside Saddle Road as the Mauna Loa volcano erupts Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, near Hilo, Hawaii.  (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File) (U.S.
FILE - A man talks on a phone in his car alongside Saddle Road as the Mauna Loa volcano erupts Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, near Hilo, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File) (U.S. Geological Survey) Photo Gallery

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, but the lava that was feeding the flow heading toward the crucial road has been cut off, likely because of a reduced production rate, said David Phillips, deputy scientist-in-charge at U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

“That’s good news for us,” Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said. Still, 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 from Saddle Road, also known as Route 200, 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.

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