(CNN) – A county official urged visitors not to be deterred by dramatic images of the eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano, as only a small part of the state is affected.
Kilauea volcano has gobbled up lush landscape, destroyed houses and caused nearly 2,000 people to flee their homes. It’s also wreaking havoc on Hawaii’s famed tourism industry to an estimated tune of millions of dollars in the first week after the May 3 eruption.
At a Monday night briefing, Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe called on reporters to help minimize the economic fallout by getting their geography straight when they describe the affected and putting it in the proper context.
For one, the impacted area is on the Island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, also known as Hawaii — so named for being the largest island in the state.
It’s nearly twice as big as all the other Hawaiian islands combined and offers a range of climate zones from wet tropical to polar tundra, hence its massive tourist appeal.
The area affected by ongoing seismic activity, summit deflation, and a possible steam explosion at the summit of Kīlauea is the eastern part of the state near Leilani Estates, an area that contains less than 5% of the island’s population, Okabe said. It contains Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, two-thirds of which remain closed.
“All of you here in the media today needs to send a message that Hawaii County, Hawaii Island is safe. The rest of the state is safe,” Okabe said.
Tourism in Kona on the other side of the Big Island was suffering from the negative publicity, Okabe said. He likened the economic impact to a catastrophe in Disneyland causing visitors to cancel reservations in Colorado. He urged people to not rely solely on social media to obtain updates about conditions on the ground and to seek information from official government sources.
“Social media, it has its place but in this particular situation we do not want to create any panic to any of our constituents or the people of this island,” he said. “We don’t want to give wrong messages not only to our island but to the rest of this country.”