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Interview: Mayor Mitch Roth asks for respect from visitors of Maunaloa

Hawaii Volcano Hawaiian Culture
Gregory Bull
Illona Ilae, a Native Hawaiian from Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi, leaves an offering in front an alter below the Maunaloa volcano as it erupts Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, near Hilo, Hawaiʻi. Glowing lava from the world's largest volcano is a sight to behold, but for many Native Hawaiians, Maunaloa's eruption is a time to pray, make offerings and honor both the natural and spiritual worlds.

The Maunaloa eruption has made Hawaiʻi a global celebrity once again, but Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth said some people are being disrespectful of the lava flow.

Lava continues to creep closer to the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road, but that might not be the cause of a shutdown for the roadway.

Roth said officials have had to deal with hikers trying to trespass into prohibited areas, including some who brought marshmallows to roast by the lava.

"A lot of people consider Madame Pele a part of their family," Roth said. He added that it is 'disrespectful' to the land, culture and community when people leave trash in the area.

The Hawaiʻi National Guard has deployed about 20 service members to help maintain the crowds. Roth said that the state is receiving support from all sides, both federal and island-wide.

"If we have people that are breaking the rules and going out there, that may be something that causes us to close the road a lot sooner," Roth said.

Additionally, the recent update of the lava path branching off and heading east could possibly be good, suggested Roth.

"So it's like the lava, pardon the pun, it's a very fluid situation that we have out here."

Roth said he is even prouder of the work done to get the Traffic Hazard Mitigation Road up and running within a day. The road provides volcano viewers with the opportunity to safely see the eruption by pulling over to the side of the road.

"We're planning for the worst and hoping for the best."

This interview aired on The Conversation on Dec. 7, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at
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