Alternate roads prepared if lava crosses highway

AP News
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Posted: Sep 11, 2014 9:03 PM
Alternate roads prepared if lava crosses highway

HONOLULU (AP) — Lava concerns on Hawaii's Big Island are shifting from it reaching a sparsely populated subdivision to it crossing over a heavily used highway.

Hawaii County workers on Thursday began preparing defunct roads to be used as alternate routes if lava from Kilauea volcano reaches Highway 130, which could happen within weeks. The highway is a lifeline that connects the mostly rural, isolated Puna district with the rest of the island.

Meanwhile, the lava appears to be going around the Kaohe Homesteads, a subdivision in Puna.

"Presently the leading edge of the surface flow is located approximately 0.3 miles from the northwest or upper corner of the Wao Kele Forest Reserve and Kaohe Homesteads boundary," Hawaii County Civil Defense said in an update Thursday.

It's possible the lava will skirt the subdivision, but residents there should remain prepared, officials said.

"While there's a great deal of anxiety out there (in the subdivision,) they have reason to be hopeful the lava could bypass them," said Kevin Dayton, county spokesman. "That doesn't mean they're out of the woods."

Work will continue into next week clearing and smoothing two unpaved gravel roads. Gov. Neil Abercrombie last week signed an emergency proclamation that allows the county to bypass permitting and land-use issues to re-open abandoned roads.

Railroad Avenue, used in the days when there was a railroad serving sugar plantations, needs to be cleared of albizia trees to be turned into a two-way route, Dayton said. Government Beach Road has denser vegetation that needs to be cleared. The county plans to make that road a one-way route because it's narrower.

The part of Highway 130 that could be cut off is used by 7,000 to 11,000 vehicles per day, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said. Lava has covered other major Big Island roads in the past, but he has never experienced lava crossing a road so heavily relied upon by residents and businesses, Oliveira said.

There will be increased police presence to help direct traffic on the alternate routes, which will connect to existing unaffected roadways, Dayton said. It's also possible the county will ask the Hawaii National Guard to help with security and safety issues.

The Puna district is still recovering from damage left behind when Tropical Storm Iselle made landfall over the area last month. The storm left thousands without electricity — some for weeks. Now, Hawaii Electric Light Co. is preparing for the lights to possibly go out again.

"There's no immediate or imminent threat to our facilities or power lines right now," utility spokeswoman Kristen Okinaka said. "We do want to keep power on as long as it's safely possible to allow residents to prepare for the lava flow or possible evacuations."

But preparing for possible scenarios is dependent on "what Pele decides to do," she said, referring to the Hawaiian volcano goddess.

"With any disaster there's a possibility that power will go out," she said. "Fire is always a concern because of the temperature of the lava."

Schools in the area are also making plans for lava reaching the highway. The state Department of Education is looking at possibly flying faculty and staff from Oahu in the event teachers who live on one side of the flow are unable to drive to their schools, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. If students are cut off from their schools, the department is looking into finding other nearby schools than can accommodate them.

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Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .