With Homes Destroyed and Lives Threatened by Volcano’s Eruption, Sports are the Least of Hawai’i’s Worries
16 May, 2018By: Mary Helen Sprecher
With residents being evacuated from homes and property damage estimates already in the millions, the idea that sports events on Hawai’i’s Big Island could become casualties of the volcano eruption is the least of the area’s concerns.
According to NPR, 26 homes have been destroyed so far in the Leilani Estates subdivision. Over 1,700 residents from that neighborhood and Lanipuna Gardens have been evacuated as small earthquakes continue and lava keeps spilling, said Adventure Sports Network.
But for the time being, most sports events seem to have been spared.
With school years winding down, many colleges and high schools have finished athletic activities for the year. No NCAA championships are being held on the island this time around and the University of Hawai'i at Hilo and Hawai'i Community College have both closed campuses to allow students and employees to "attend to personal business and priorities,” according to one news report. Volcano School of Arts & Sciences, adjacent to the affected area, has announced its closure for the time being. Multiple high schools and elementary schools have also closed.
Tourist boats, hiking and general tours of the affected area have been suspended until further notice, stated a news report. The volcanic activity comes at a particularly problematic time for Hawai’i. Southwest has just announced new routes to the islands. According to the U.K.-based Express, tourism to the state has steadily increased in the last few years, but this recent eruption has caused many potential vacationers to think twice about flying in. Some airlines, including Hawaiian, are waiving flight change fees. The Hawai’i Tourism Authority has posted a special document, noting the limited area affected by the volcano and urging travelers to continue their vacation plans.
“The closest resort areas, in Kona and the Kohala Coast on the island of Hawai‘i’s west side, are more than 100 miles away from where the lava flow is occurring and shielded by the massive mountains of Maunakea and Maunaloa,” the memo noted. “Resort areas located on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i, and in Maui County, are located hundreds of miles from Kilauea volcano.”
Some events scheduled for the area have already taken place, or are deep enough into the 2019 calendar that they are not yet affected. The IRONMAN, which takes place on the Big Island in October, is one of these.
Planners of sports events on other islands understand the severity of the situation and know how easily and quickly things can change. One coastal area of Kuaui was devastated by mid-April flooding, and some areas, including Napali Coast Stae Wilderness Park and Tunnels Beach, remain inaccessible to most tourists. Some islands, however, have escaped such problems; the Honolulu Triathlon took place this past weekend as scheduled on the neighboring island of O’ahu.
And back on the Big Island, plenty of venues are at risk. One of the island chain’s most popular visitation spots for hikers and trail runners is Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. But the National Parks Service has noted that all areas of the 333,308-park are now closed, with the exception of the portion of Highway 11 that runs through the park and the Kahuku Unit.
Volcano Golf and Country Club, on the eastern side of the island, is about 20 miles from the danger zone, according to Golf.com. The 18-hole facility built in 1921 is located within Volcanoes National Park. But its tees and greens lie safely to the north of this latest eruption, which is spewing from a vent in the Pu'o O'o cone, one of Kilauea's volatile craters.
But don’t think its personnel have elevated ideas of staying behind, should the volcano threaten to blow its top.
"If something happens, we'll be out of here in minutes," said Sanae Gathwright, president of golf course operations. "Believe me, I won't be picking up the phone."