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Lava flow remains active as county begins preparation efforts should an evacuation be necessary

Updated: 
August 29, 2014 - 8:26am

Hawaii County Civil Defense officials will call for an evacuation should a worrisome lava flow approaching neighborhoods near Pahoa appear to be within five days of encroaching on populated areas.

Such a possibility is still a long way off, however, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge Jim Kauahikaua told a packed house Thursday night at the Pahoa Community Center.

Predicting the speed and direction of the flow at this point is “nearly an impossibility” he said, but the flow appears now to be “weeks to months” from reaching Kaohe Homesteads and other neighborhoods south of Pahoa.

“The lava flow continues to be active, although relatively weakly active,” he said as he showed a map of the June 27 flow, named for the day it was observed emerging from the flank of Pu‘u O‘o on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone.

As of Thursday, the easternmost tip of the flow was about 1.8 miles from the boundary of Kaohe Homesteads, but the active surface flow was still about 5.3 miles away, Kauahikaua said.

The part of the flow closest to the homes appears to have stalled, he said, with no evidence that it had appeared to advance within a large crack in the terrain.

“While we are cautiously optimistic that this part of the flow is inactive, we will continue to watch it over the coming days,” reads an eruption update handed out to attendees at Thursday’s meeting. “Currently the flow is not posing an immediate threat to area residences and critical infrastructure such as major roadways and highways.”

The flow has so far been following a series of parallel cracks that lead toward Pahoa and surrounding areas, including over Highway 130, the only large roadway leading out of lower Puna.

Should the movement of the flow indicate that it could cross major roadways in Puna, Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said that the county is preparing to open up alternative roadways, including Beach, Waawaa, and Chain of Craters roads.

Oliveira added that his office and scientists at HVO are continuing to monitor the flow, and will continue to provide regular updates. On Thursday, Civil Defense began at noon to provide hourly messages to isle radio stations to keep residents informed.

According to a handout, there are several things area residents can do to prepare as the process continues:

  • Learn about and familiarize yourself with all of the hazards you may be vulnerable to;
  • Understand and know the means you may receive warnings of possible threats;
  • Monitor your local radio station for public information and Civil Defense Message information;
  • Have a plan for these hazards;
  • Be prepared for a possible evacuation that may limit the time you may have to complete;
  • Inform local authorities of any special needs you or your neighbors may have with an evacuation;
  • and, Identify multiple alternate routes for you to take in the event of a road obstruction or closure.

For more information, visit http://www.hawaiicounty.gov/civil-defense or http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.