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Oct 28, 2014 2:41 PM

Lava within yards of home on Hawaii's Big Island

The Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) After weeks of slow, stop-and-go movement, a river of asphalt-black lava was within yards of a home in a Big Island community Tuesday.

The lava crackled and smoked as it advanced toward the two-story structure in Pahoa Village, smothering an expanse of vegetation.

Residents of the small town 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 when necessary.

County officials are making arrangements for those living in the lava's path to be able to watch the lava 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.

The lava was about 70 yards from a home Monday evening, officials said. County officials have warned those with respiratory problems to stay indoors because of the smoke.

Over the weekend, the lava crossed a road in Pahoa Village, considered a main town in the island's rural Puna district. It was getting dangerously close to Pahoa Village Road, which goes straight through downtown.


The flow's advancement 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.

On Monday, it was moving 5 to 10 yards an hour.

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

Imelda Raras lives on Apaa Street, which was hit by the lava Sunday. She 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," Raras said. "I hope our home will be spared."


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

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.

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."


Initially, the lava seemed headed for the Kaohe Homesteads, a sparsely populated subdivision.

But the lava reached vacant lots and then stalled. It skirted a corner of the subdivision and then headed toward Pahoa.

Pahoa has small-town charm, but it's the "only town in a commercial sense in lower Puna," said state Sen. Russell Ruderman, who represents the district and runs a natural food store in Pahoa.

Because the lava could change direction, any community in Puna is at risk.


Sporadic suspensions in the lava's movement have given emergency crews time to build alternate routes to town.

Crews near the lava's leading edge have been wrapping power poles with concrete rings as a layer of protection from the heat.

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.


No one knows if the lava flow will stop, change direction or hit more homes.

In the 1990s, about 200 homes were destroyed by lava flows from Kilauea.


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