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Hawaii officials hope Kilauea volcano eruption won't deter travelers

Trump declares disaster in Hawaii

Hawaii tourism officials are hoping Kilauea's eruption won't deter travelers from visiting the state's largest island -- even as geologists warn the volcano could soon shoot large boulders out of its summit. Travel industry executives note that most of the Big Island is free of eruption threats from Kilauea, which began spewing lava and gas into a residential neighborhood earlier this month.

The Big Island is "immense" and there are large parts that are unaffected by the volcano, said George Szigeti, CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. 

Kilauea is being monitored constantly, and Hawaii County Civil Defense officials have urged residents in lower Puna, a district on the Big Island, to remain vigilant and be ready to evacuate on short notice, CBS Honolulu affiliate KGMB reports.

Since last week, lava has been siphoning away from the volcano's summit, breaking through the ground in a series of more than a dozen fissures. As a result, lava levels inside the volcano's main crater have been decreasing. If more rocks and boulders fall into the crater, it could create a blockage and pressurized steam as the lava reaches groundwater levels. The resulting explosion can blast rocks and ash for miles.

The situation didn't stop Matthew and Angelina Coney, who flew in for their honeymoon even though the lava outbreak began the day they married in Fresno, California. They view their trip as a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

Hawaii volcano could blast fridge-sized boulders

On Friday, President Donald Trump declared a major disaster existed on the Big Island -- a move that will make federal financial assistance available to state and local governments as they repair roads, public parks, schools and water pipes damaged by the eruption. It will also help cover costs for geologists and security personnel at roadblocks.

Since the quake, there have been frequent aftershocks. More than a dozen fissures oozing lava have opened in the ground. Adding to the distress, of the 36 structures destroyed, 26 were homes.   

Authorities have warned about continued threats.

"We still have a highly active volcano here at Kilauea," said Tina Neal, USGS scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. "The situation remains unstable. Additional outbreaks of lava are likely."

Hawaii officials have had a busy month pleading with travelers to keep their plans even as dramatic images of natural disasters afflicting the islands have bombarded televisions and social media feeds. In April, floods on Kauai Island made travelers nervous. Then last week, the erupting volcano sent 2,200-degree lava bursting through cracks into people's backyards in the Leilani Estates neighborhood, and as Kilauea's magma shifted underground, a magnitude-6.9 earthquake rocked the Big Island

Robert Hughes, the owner of Aloha Junction Bed and Breakfast in Volcano, said he's had "tons" of cancellations since Wednesday when geologists first warned of the explosive eruption. But Hughes, a 45-year resident of the village of some 2,500 people, suspects he'll soon hear from adventurers and photographers who want to see the eruption up close. 

"I'm not too worried about it because I've lived here so long and I've seen it go through lots of different episodes," Hughes said.

The town, which is nestled in a lush rainforest a few miles from the crater, is a popular overnight spot for park visitors.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park's decision to close Friday due to risk of an explosive eruption will discourage travelers, said Janet Coney, the office manager at Kilauea Lodge, an inn in Volcano. The lodge, which has 12 rooms and 4 cottages, has had a handful of cancellations. Coney is anticipating more depending on what happens.

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