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Despite lava flow now within 2 miles of Puna subdivision, officials say no imminent threat

August 26, 2014 - 7:46am

Hawaii Island public safety officials asked Lower Puna residents Monday night to remain vigilant as scientists continue to track a lava flow that is now within 2 miles of a populated subdivision.

There is no immediate danger, said Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira, as he spoke to about 300 attendees at a meeting at the Pahoa Community Center.

“This community has been through a lot the last few weeks, and you’ve been wonderful,” he said, referencing the continued recovery efforts following the impacts of Tropical Storm Iselle. “We just want to keep you informed and prepared.”

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge Jim Kauahikaua echoed those sentiments, but also provided a sobering warning.

“There is no imminent threat, but it could develop into a threat fairly quickly,” he said.

Scientists have been monitoring very closely the June 27 flow — named for the date when it first emerged — as it moves to the northeast of its vent on the flank of Puu Oo on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone.

The flow has been active on two fronts, one to the north, and a more worrisome one to the south. As of 1 p.m. Monday, that flow had continued moving eastward within a large crack, leading it to within about 2 miles of Kaohe Homesteads.

“There’s no sign of it stopping right at the moment,” Kauahikaua said.

Additionally, scientists have noted that the source of the flow is continuing to pump out lava at a relatively fast rate, feeding the flow as it moves its way through the cracks and crevices in the area. The direction and speed of the flow has been difficult to predict precisely because of the land’s cracked surface, he added. The uneven surface can change the direction of the flow with very little warning.

Kauahikaua said the flow continued to move between 200 and 300 feet a day.

Oliveira said that he and other county officials met with neighbors in the Kaohe subdivision to give them the latest updates and begin discussions about what might happen should the community need to be evacuated.

“You will receive word within days, not hours,” he said. “We will continue to watch very closely and we think you should be aware.”

Upon taking questions, it became clear that the residents in Puna have already had their fill of disaster. The Pahoa Community Center was filled, with little standing room remaining. Residents lined the walls outside the building, straining and turning their heads as they listened through the slats in the windows.

“What is the plan if Highway 130 is covered by the lava?” asked one woman.

Oliveira explained that county officials have discussed the possibility of opening up Chain of Craters Road should that happen.

“We are looking at all the options, but ultimately, with the road, there’s very little we can do if it is impacted,” he said.

Questions began to come quickly and with more than a little frustration accompanying them, with some in the crowd shouting over each other. Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi seemed to defuse some of that, bringing a measure of order to the question and answer process and lending a little humor and folksy translations of some of the scientific terminology being presented.

“Nobody’s dodging anything up here,” he said. “We’re here to answer questions, and we’re gonna focus on this flow. … The thing that is concerning is that the source is not slowing down. That’s the alarming part.”

“We’re exploring all options” he added. “A lot of things can happen. Everything is on the table. … We’re gonna need a lot of prayer and aloha.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at

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