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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

THE MOST DANGEROUS SPOT ON PLANET EARTH


On Thursday my posting reported from TIME magazine that Ocean County in New Jersey was the most dangerous in the USA, mostly from storms.  They got to be kidding.  Send the TIME editors to Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii.  This is the most dangerous spot, maybe on Planet Earth, and certainly for potential natural disasters.

Sure, it's no family picnic in Ukraine, about a million places on the African continent, Ferguson, anywhere near an active volcano in Indonesia and much of the Middle East.  However, the natural forces from land, sea and air attacking this northeastern portion of Paradise are singularly noteworthy.

In August, Hurricane Isselle devastated Hawaiian Paradise Park.  Watch the video if you clicked on that link.  And you thought I was exaggerating about this being Paradise.  Okay, to be perfectly correct, Isselle was only a tropical storm when first impacting the island, but right behind was Julio, at peak a monster at 120 MPH.  And, true, Julio fizzled, but the potential was frightening.

During the peak of the storm, the media reported:

Uncontrolled venting of Hydrogen Sulfide gas at Puna Geothermal Venture


While at first glance threatening, it turned out that the concentration of H2S was so low that any personal impact was psychological.  But you certainly could smell that rotten egg pungency...which is, granted, the almost norm.

This whole region is covered with acacia trees, and Isselle exposed the jeopardy posed by this threat. Mind you, there are good (left) acacias and bad (right) ones.  The Acacia koa is prized for bowls, furniture and floors.  This is the most prestigious wood for the finest homes in Hawaii.    Then there is the type imported, and while now an invasive nuisance, it made some sense to bring it here, for this tree grows very quickly with little tending and produces its own nitrogen.


Okay, so far, I haven't made the case for Puna being the most dangerous spot on earth, as that recent photo immediately above looks more like a minor forest fire.  But, there is now lava (that photo at the top of this posting, and more realistically just above what it looks like today) heading for this portion of the Big Island.  Thirty years ago I was golfing at the Volcano Golf Course, the ground shook, and we saw fountains of lave not far from where we were standing.  This eruption has continued and a finger of flow is today heading towards Puna:


Pahoa is the largest and only real town in this part of Puna.  Moving at 100 feet per day, the flow is unpredictable, and might well be within two weeks of covering this town in a worst case scenario.  The scale is for the larger map above, but as of yesterday, lava was three miles away.  However, that is the "city."  Kaohe Homesteads with up to 30 households is within heat distance, a few hundred yards, of this flow, which presently appears to be bypassing this site.  So far, this 31 year old eruption has consumed 214 homes.

Then, when you think it can't get any worse, today, the morning paper had this headline:

     Signs show Mauna Loa is stirring

Kilauea is but a minor protuberance next to Mauna Loa, which rises to 13,658 feet, and since 1843 has erupted on 33 occasions, or every five years.  However, the last time this occurred was thirty years ago when the flow got oh so close to the town of Hilo, and this is what it looked like at night:


Thankfully, the lava stopped flowing and Hilo was saved for the next tsunami.  However, in 1950 Mauna Loa erupted and the flow was towards the Kona side, REACHING THE OCEAN IN A LITTLE OVER THREE HOURS.  Want a scary story that could happen again, read that link.  To the right shows Mauna Loa generously disbursing the flow in all directions.  (Click on it to read the details.)

Luckily, although this has happened before, Hawaiian volcanoes recently have not exploded like Mount St. Helens did in Washington a third of a century ago:


Remember, this whole Puna area is a fault zone, and in  1960 an eruption destroyed Kapoho Village, the other city here.  They tried building barriers and spraying water, but nothing worked. Around a hundred homes and businesses were overwhelmed.  Looking at the top map above, the whole area around the right point got inundated with lava:



Certainly, Ocean County cannot possibly be more dangerous than the Puna Region of Hawaii.  And worse, if Mauna Loa erupts towards Hilo, which is adjacent to Puna, and another monstrous Alaskan earthquake sends a mega-tsunami to that city, again, Puna would become #2 to Hilo as the most dangerous spot on Planet Earth.

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Hawaii has no hurricanes anywhere near us, but there is now Tropical Storm Polo at 40 MPH on the heels of Hurricane Odile, but is predicted to "only" skirt Baja, unlike  Odile, which made a turn to the right and went right over this peninsula, devastating Cabo San Lucas, sending 30,000 tourists into temporary shelters.  The cruise industry will certainly be affected and no doubt will skip stopping here for a while.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Edouard is now at 120 MPH, but is continuing to move away from the USA:


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