As of Thursday afternoon, the lava was about 3.2 miles away from the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road, which connects the east and west sides of the Big Island.
Lava flows from the eruption of Hawaii's Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano, are moving toward a main highway, adding to local worries on an island with few major roadways.
The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed in its most recent update, issued Thursday night local time, that the lava flows "are traveling to the north toward the Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Saddle Road) but have reached relatively flatter ground and have slowed down significantly as expected."
The highway connects the east and west sides of the Big Island, acting as a thoroughfare between the towns of Hilo and Kona.
The lava is traveling toward the highway at a rate of about 0.025 mph and, as of 1 p.m. local time Thursday, the flow front was about 3.2 miles from the highway, the agency's most recent update said.
That rate means the flow could reach the highway in about a week, but that timeline could change, according to the update, which notes that "there are many variables at play and both the direction and timing of flow advance are fluid and are expected to change over periods of hours to days."
A blockage of the road would pose problems, especially for those who use it to commute from Hilo and other parts of the island’s east side, where housing is generally more affordable, to jobs on the west side, home to many of the larger beach resorts. Hilo is also home to the Hilo Medical Center, which employs 1,600 people, some of whom come from the west side, NBC affiliate KHNL of Hawaii reported.
“We have such limited roadways on this island and any time we lose a roadway, it just shifts all that traffic to somewhere else,” Mike Brown, a Kona resident, told NBC News.
Unless some sort of bypass is constructed, commuters would need to take coastal routes to and from Kailua-Kona, adding at least an hour of extra driving each way.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige has issued an emergency proclamation to allow responders to arrive quickly or limit access as needed.
If lava does cross the highway, the Hawaii National Guard can help plan for alternatives and try to set up bypass routes, he said.
Hayley Hina Barcia, who lives in Hilo and has family in Kona, on the west side of the island, said her family relies on the highway to see one another.
“We’re looking to have to go several hours longer to go the south way or taking the north road.”
Sky Makai, a Hilo resident who works in Kona, said the highway blockage would make commuting to work “way harder.”
“I don’t know many people who have a four-hour commute, eight hours in a day,” he said. “So just trying to imagine that is pretty hard.”
Hawaii lava flows generally move slow enough to be avoidable, but they can be destructive, according to the USGS: “They can destroy everything in their paths, including vegetation and infrastructure —which can cut off road access and utilities.”
Lava flows can also cause “severe burns, abrasions, and lacerations upon contact with unprotected or exposed skin” and impact air quality by giving rise to hot temperatures and limited visibility after heavy rain, it states.
Mauna Loa, which means “long mountain,” covers half the island, according to the agency.
In about half of the previous eruptions, the lava remained in the summit region, which rises about 55,700 feet above its base. In the other cases, the lava spilled over into one of the rift zones, producing flows that covered broad swaths of the volcano’s lower slopes.
Before Sunday, geologists had recorded 33 eruptions since 1843, making Mauna Loa among the world’s most active volcanoes. It is one of six volcanoes in Hawaii, according to the USGS.
When the volcano last erupted in 1984, a fast-moving river of lava came within 2 miles of Kulani Prison before it stalled, according to the National Park Service.
A few days later, another lava flow that had moved 16 miles in just four days reached the outskirts of Hilo before stopping, sparing the city, the agency reported.
Biden signs legislation to avert rail strike
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The president defended the deal after an amendment to add seven days of paid sick leave for rail workers failed because of opposition from Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin.
President Joe Biden signed legislation Friday to avoid a potentially catastrophic rail strike after Congress approved the measure this week.
Biden had pleaded with congressional lawmakers to act swiftly, warning of significant damage to supply chains that could threaten the U.S. economy just weeks before Christmas. In his remarks before signing the bill, Biden said his economic advisers reported that as many as 765,000 Americans "would have been put out of work for the first time within the first two weeks of the strike alone."
“I want to thank Congress — Democrats and Republicans — for acting so quickly. I know this was a tough vote for members of both parties; it was a tough [vote] for me. But it was the right thing to do at the moment, to save jobs, to protect millions of working families from harm and disruption and to keep the supply chains stable around the holidays,” Biden said before he signed the bill into law.
The agreement, brokered by the Biden administration in September, provides rail union members with an immediate 14.1% wage increase that will grow to 24% by 2024. It also provides more health care benefits and an additional day of personal leave.
Congress can block a strike and impose labor agreements under the 1926 Railway Labor Act, which aims to prevent the interruption of interstate commerce during labor disputes. Biden had pressed lawmakers to pass the measure after railway workers vowed to strike if an agreement couldn’t be reached.
“Without action this week, disruptions to our auto supply chains, our ability to move food to tables and our ability to remove hazardous waste from gasoline refineries will begin,” Biden said.
The Senate, which required 60 votes, passed the bill 80-15 on Thursday, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voting present. The Senate acted quickly, only one day after the bill was approved in the House with broad bipartisan support.
The Senate voted down an amendment, 52-43, championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would have added seven days of paid sick leave for rail workers to the deal.
“Let me be clear: This struggle is not over,” Sanders said after the sick leave amendment failed. “At a time of record-breaking profits for the rail industry, it is disgraceful that railroad workers do not have a single day of paid sick leave.”
Biden said before signing the bill that he would continue to press for such provisions.
"I know this bill doesn't have paid sick leave these rail workers and frankly every worker in America deserves," he said. "But that fight isn't over."
"I've supported that fight for a long time. I'm going to continue that fight until we succeed," he added.
Some progressives and even multiple conservatives opposed the legislative fix, brokered by the Biden administration in September, with some citing union opposition. Four of 12 railway unions rejected the deal, and Biden called on Congress to intervene after talks between workers and their employers appeared to stall.
“Working together, we have spared this country a Christmas catastrophe in our grocery stores, in our workplaces, and in our communities,” Biden said in a statement after the Senate passed the measure. “I know that many in Congress shared my reluctance to override the union ratification procedures. But in this case, the consequences of a shutdown were just too great for working families all across the country.”