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Oct 28, 2014 8:26 PM

Lava burns shed as it creeps toward Hawaii homes

The Associated Press

PAHOA, Hawaii (AP) After weeks of slow, stop-and-go movement, a river of asphalt-black lava destroyed a wooden shed Tuesday as it crept closer to homes in a Big Island community.

The lava flow easily burned down the empty shed at about 7:30 a.m., several hours after entering a residential property in Pahoa Village, said Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira.

A branch of the molten stream was less than the length of a football field from a two-story house. It could hit the home later Tuesday if it continues on its current path, Oliveira estimated.

Residents of Pahoa Village, the commercial center of the island's rural Puna district south of Hilo, have had weeks to prepare for what's been described as a slow-motion disaster. Most have either already left or are prepared to go.

At least 50 or 60 structures including homes and businesses are in the area likely to be hit.

Imelda Raras lives on Apaa Street, which was hit by the lava Sunday. She and her husband are ready to go to a friend's home if officials tell them they should leave.

"We are still praying," Raras said. "I hope our home will be spared."

On Tuesday morning, civil defense officials said the lava was about 500 yards from Pahoa Village Road, which runs through downtown and is one of the town's main roads.

Josiah Hunt, who has farm in a part of Puna that is not immediately threatened, described smelling burning grass, feeling warmth from the lava and hearing "popping and sizzling and all the methane bursts that are happening in the distance ... mixed with the birds chirping and the coqui frogs."


Scientists began warning the public about the lava from Kilauea volcano Aug. 22. At the time, residents were cleaning up from a tropical storm that made landfall over the Puna district.

The flow's advance has been inconsistent, ranging from about 2 to 20 yards per hour, depending on topography, said Janet Babb, a spokeswoman for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The couple living in the house closest to the flow evacuated but have returned periodically to gather belongings, Oliveira said. At one point they allowed civil defense workers to view the lava from their balcony.

A branch of the lava flow was about 100 yards from the house Tuesday, while the "flow front" was about 200 yards from another home on the property.

Raras said she and her husband began putting their belongings in storage in September. What they can't take with them they're photographing for insurance purposes.

Jeff and Denise Lagrimas packed dishes and other belongings into cardboard boxes Tuesday to move their nine-member household to a new rental home in Kurtistown, about 14 miles away.

"It's so surreal, it's so surreal. Never in my wildest dreams as a kid growing up did I think I would be running from lava," said Denise Lagrimas.

Their new house is far from the lava flow.

"We didn't want to go anywhere where it's close enough where we would have to evacuate again," she said.


County officials are making arrangements for those living in the lava's path to be able to watch the flow destroy their homes as a means of closure.

"You can only imagine the frustration as well as ... despair they're going through," Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said.

Hunt watched last week as the lava crept toward Pahoa and saw a woman whose house is near its path put a lei at the front of the flow. "It helps a person come to grips with the reality of the situation," he said. "I found it to be oddly comforting in a really strange way."


Some schools are closing this week and sending their students to a temporary facility and to other area schools.

Crews have been building alternate roads, and officials are preparing for the lava to cut off access for some residents who are assigned to vote Nov. 4 at the Pahoa Community Center.

The center will remain open for voting for those who can reach it. Those living on the north side of the flow who are assigned to the center can instead go to the Hawaiian Paradise Community Center.

Voters also can cast ballots early by going to the Nanawale Community Center until Friday.


Terri Mulroy, who runs Kumu Aina Farm with her husband, said the lava flow, while unnerving, has a cleansing quality to it because it keeps development on the lush Hawaiian island in check.

"If it wasn't for the flow, I wouldn't be able to live here," she said. "This land would have been a golf course for the rich."


Associated Press writer Alina Hartounian contributed to this report.


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