After weeks of watching, Hawaii lava nears home
Honolulu — Hawaii officials will make arrangements for those living in the path of a lava flow to watch the destruction of their homes.
That accommodation is being made to “provide for a means of closure,” Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said Monday. “You can only imagine the frustration as well as … despair they’re going through.”
Dozens of residents have been told they might have to evacuate as lava from Kilauea heads toward their homes.
The lava was about 70 yards from a home Monday evening, officials said.
After weeks of fitful advancement, the lava crossed Apaa Street on Sunday in Pahoa Village, considered a main town of the Big Island’s isolated and rural Puna district. It was getting dangerously close to Pahoa Village Road, which goes straight through downtown.
Here’s a look at the volcano:
The flow advanced about 275 yards from Sunday morning to Monday morning, moving northeast at about 10 to 15 yards per hour. At other times, the lava slowed to about 2 yards per hour or sped up to about 20 yards per hour, depending on topography, said Janet Babb, a spokeswoman for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Teams of scientists from the observatory were walking alongside the flow day and night to provide updates, she said. At 11:15 a.m. Monday, the flow front was 580 yards from Pahoa Village Road.
Officials closed the Pahoa Village Road between Apaa Street and Post Office Road to everyone except residents.
Those living downslope of the flow are under an evacuation advisory. Most residents have left or have made arrangements to go somewhere else if necessary. Oliveira said he doesn’t anticipate having to issue a mandatory evacuation order.
The couple living in the house closest to the flow have left but have been returning periodically to gather belongings, Oliveira said. “They are out of the property and awaiting the events to unfold.”
He estimated the lava could reach the house sometime Monday evening.
Apaa Street resident Imelda Raras, said she and her husband are ready to go to a friend’s home if officials tell them they should leave.
“We are still praying,” she said. “I hope our home will be spared.”
Scientists began warning the public about the lava on Aug. 22. At the time, residents were cleaning up from a tropical storm that made landfall over the Puna district, toppling trees and knocking out electricity.
The lava has advanced and slowed as residents waited and watched.
Kilauea volcano, one of the world’s most active, has been erupting continuously since 1983.
This is not an eruption at the caldera, the things that make for stunning pictures as red lava spews from the mountaintop.
Decomposition of vegetation in the lava’s path has created methane gas, which if it accumulates and is ignited by heat can cause a blast, Babb said.
“It’s not a massive explosion,” she said. “But it can dislodge rocks. It can hurl large rocks several feet.”
Who is at risk?
Initially, the lava seemed headed for the Kaohe Homesteads, a widespread, sparsely populated subdivision in the Puna district.
It reached vacant lots in the subdivision before it stalled. It skirted the northeast corner of the subdivision and then headed toward Pahoa.
Pahoa has small-town, quaint and historic charm, but it’s “the only town in a commercial sense in lower Puna,” said state Sen. Russell Ruderman, who represents Puna and runs a natural food store in Pahoa.
Because the lava could change direction, any community in Puna is at risk. Everyone in the district lives on the volcano. The lush, agricultural district is about a 30-minute drive from the coastal town of Hilo.
The lava that crossed Apaa Street is on the other end of the street from the Raras home, but they’re bracing for the possibility the lava will spread or change directions.
Why would someone live on an active volcano? Unlike Honolulu, the state’s biggest city on the island of Oahu, the Big Island’s Puna region has affordable land and offers a more rural way of life.
Located on the island’s southeast side, the area is made up of subdivisions that have unpaved roads of volcanic rock.
Many live off the grid on solar power and catchment water systems.
Residents know the risks as there are special insurance requirements to buy land in certain lava zones.
Sporadic suspensions in the lava’s movement gave emergency crews time to work on building alternate routes to town in the event the flow covers the main road and highway.
Crews near the leading edge have been wrapping power poles with concrete rings as a layer of protection from lava heat.
Officials worried that if lava crosses Highway 130, it would isolate Puna from the rest of the island.
“Puna will be divided into the north side of the flow and the south side of the flow,” Ruderman said.
Raras said they began putting their belongings in storage in September. What they aren’t able to take with them, they’re photographing for insurance purposes.
How long will the risk remain?
No one knows if the lava flow will stop, change direction or hit homes.
In the 1990s, about 200 homes were destroyed by lava flows from Kilauea.
The last evacuations from the volcano came in 2011. One home was destroyed and others were threatened before the lava changed course.
Kilauea is home to Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. Some residents expressed anger at suggestions to divert the flow. They say it’s culturally insensitive to interfere with Pele’s will.
The U.S. Geological Survey says Kilauea is the youngest volcano on Hawaii Island. Officials estimate Kilauea’s first eruption happened between 300,000 and 600,000 years ago.
Don’t cancel vacation plans
The lava isn’t a reason to cancel a Big Island vacation because it’s an isolated event.
Officials have warned people to stay away from the area and imposed flight restrictions because of helicopter tours hoping to see lava.