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Mauna Loa volcano erupts in Hawaii: How to protect yourself against volcanic ash

With the eruption of the World’s largest active volcano on Sunday night it is useful to know dangers posed by debris if the situation escalates.

The Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii is shown in this 1975 handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, and released to Reuters on June 19, 2014.
Handout .REUTERS

Hawai’ians woke up this morning to news that the largest volcano on the island erupted overnight. Accompanied by a dozen earthquakes, the eruption began in the summit caldera on the Mauna Loa volcano.

Mauna Loa rises 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above the Pacific Ocean and last erupted in March and April of 1984.

“Based on past events, the early stages of a Mauna Loa eruption can be very dynamic and the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly,” the United States Geological Society (USGS) said.

The organisation has information related to protection from ash inhalation if the lava continues to spread. The key message is to stay indoors as long as possible, especially for those people who are most vulnerable. This includes children and infants, older people and those with existing lung or heart disease.

Keep up to date with the eruption with our live feed.

Keeping safe indoors

Being safe from ash indoors mostly relates to keeping ash out.

  • Close doors and windows, where possible.
  • If possible, seal up large gaps and spaces to the outdoors. For example, you could use tape and plastic sheeting, or rolled-up towels.
  • Try to set up a single entry/exit point for the building. Leave ashy clothes/shoes outside.
  • Do not use any appliances (e.g., air conditioners) which suck in air from the outside. If the indoor environment is ashy, try to gently clean away the ash (e.g., using damp cloths).
  • Don’t use vacuum cleaners as they can blow out fine ash, back into the indoor space.

What masks are effective?

Masks are an absolute necessity when outdoors or clearing ash. With the covid-19 pandemic mostly over you are likely to be well-versed in which masks are effective but here is a refresher anyhow.

The key criteria for good masks is that it fits the face well to prevent ash entering around the edges while also stopping ash from passing throught the material. The most effective respiratory protection for adults is to wear a well-fitting, industry-certified facemask such as an N95 mask. Some non-certified facemasks state that they are designed to filter ‘PM2.5′ (small particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter), which is likely to be the most harmful fraction of the ash.