HILO, Hawaii (AP) — More people are getting a firsthand look at the lava threatening a rural Big Island community.
A group of journalists got their first official tour of the flow Monday, following the first of a series of field trips to the area by local schoolchildren.
About 20 journalists trudged across the cracked, black lava at Pahoa's waste transfer station, where the flow came within feet of burning structures before losing momentum and stalling.
The lava's surface there had cooled and hardened but still released small warm columns of air, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (http://ow.ly/FCoqj).
The trip was guided by Hawaii County Civil Defense and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory officials. Earlier in the day, they took a group of schoolchildren to the section of lava that crossed a country road.
It was one of several planned field trips aimed at educating area students about the science of eruptions.
Officials say the pilot program will help them decide whether to offer viewing tours to the wider public. Access has been restricted because of safety concerns, and authorities have arrested some sightseers for trespassing in the area.
Journalists weren't allowed to be at the site while the students were there because of privacy concerns, and to not subject students to more stress, the Tribune-Herald reported. The approaching lava forced the closure of several schools, requiring students to be rerouted to other schools or a temporary site.
Up to 1,000 students are expected to view the lava by week's end.
"The students didn't know a lot about the lava flow when they first got out here, and they had a lot of questions," said Keaau Elementary Principal Keone Farias, the incoming complex area superintendent for Kau, Keaau and Pahoa schools.
Farias said a highlight of the children's visit was getting a chance to meet Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira, known for his leadership in preparing the community for the lava from Kilauea volcano.
"He was definitely a hit," Farias said. "It was putting a face to civil defense."
Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/