Hawaii town merchant: Lava is slow-motion disaster

AP News
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Posted: Sep 11, 2014 4:25 AM
Hawaii town merchant: Lava is slow-motion disaster

PAHOA, Hawaii (AP) — Businesses in a small Hawaii town are facing a slow-motion disaster as lava from Kilauea volcano oozes toward roads connecting them to the rest of the Big Island.

Tiffany Edwards Hunt, who owns a surf shop with her husband, said the lava could hit buildings while smoke from fires sparked by the lava cold damage merchandise. If lava crosses the highway leading into town, it could cut the town off.

"There is the threat of his very historic, very quaint, eclectic village becoming a ghost town because of the isolation," Hunt said after a meeting between merchants and county civil defense authorities.

Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983. Scientists issued a warning last week when a lava flow that has been advancing through cracks in the earth for the past few months moved to within a mile of a rural subdivision.

The flow since has slowed, but the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said it could reach the northwest edge of Kaohe Homesteads in a day-and-a-half. The county hasn't ordered any evacuations, however.

Officials also are preparing for the possibility that the lava will cross Highway 130, which links Pahoa and the sprawling, mostly rural district of Puna to Hilo. This could happen within weeks.

Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said lava has covered other major Big Island roads in the past, like a state highway in Kalapana and Chain of Craters Road which is partially in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

But he said he's never experienced lava crossing a road so heavily relied on by residents and businesses.

The part of Highway 130 that could be cut off is used by 7,000 to 11,000 vehicles per day, he said.

The county is quickly trying to prepare alternate routes for people to use. But Hunt said these routes are some distance from Pahoa, and would take traffic away from the town and its historic main street.

"There's a lot of fears and anxiety and uncertainty about it all," she said.

Hunt, who is also running for county council, organized a meeting on Wednesday to help merchants and civil defense officials prepare for the lava's arrival.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said Wednesday the lava flow had advanced 460 yards since the previous morning.

The flow emerged from a vent at Kilauea's Puu Oo crater in late June. Since then, it has traveled nearly 9 miles as the crow flies, or just over 10 miles if its twists and turns are accounted for.

The lava is creeping through thick forest, setting alight trees and generating smoke plumes. It is visible only from the air, unlike previous flows that tourists could watch drop into the ocean from coastal viewing areas.