Oct 27, 2014 9:37 AM

Hawaii lava forces residents to get ready to flee

The Associated Press

Dozens of Hawaii residents have been told they might have to evacuate because molten lava from a volcano is headed toward their homes.

The lava from Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanos, was about 100 yards from a home Monday morning, Hawaii County Civil Defense officials said.

After months 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, which has been continuously erupting since 1983:


The flow advanced about 275 yards since Sunday morning, moving northeast at about 10 to 15 yards per hour.

The lava's advancement slowed early Monday, while the flow continued to spread out, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. The fastest advancing lobe was about 110 yards wide and about 620 yards from Pahoa Village Road at about 7:30 a.m.

Officials closed 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 found places to go or have already left on their own.

Apaa Street resident Imelda Raras said she and her husband are ready to go to a friend's home in another part of Puna if officials tell them to 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. The warning came as 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, watched and worried.

Raras said she's not afraid: "It's like we've accepted it."

Kilauea volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983. Most lava from this eruption has flowed south, while the lava has flowed to the northeast over the past two years.

This is not an eruption at the caldera, the things that make for stunning pictures as red lava spews from the mountaintop.


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 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 side 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 still has affordable land and can offer 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 that are not maintained by the county.

People 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 are worried that if lava crosses Highway 130, it will 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. "It's going to be a dividing line that didn't exist before."

Raras said they began putting their belongings in storage in September. What they aren't able to take with them, such as furniture, they're photographing for insurance purposes.


No one knows for sure if the lava flow will stop, change direction or hit homes. It is difficult to predict when the flow will stop or if it will start again from another vent.

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.


The lava isn't a reason to cancel a Big Island vacation because it's an isolated event, but it also shouldn't be considered as a sightseeing opportunity.

Officials have warned people to stay away from the area and imposed flight restrictions because of helicopter tours hoping to see lava.


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