The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory plans to soon increase the lava threat level from a watch to a warning as a lava flow could be a week away from reaching Kaohe Homesteads.
Jim Kauahikaua, HVO scientist-in-charge, told a crowd of over 100 people at Pahoa High School on Tuesday evening the change will likely occur either Wednesday or Thursday.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said Kaohe, located southwest of Pahoa, would then become restricted to residents and property owners only and that work could begin to create alternate routes for lower Puna residents.
He added after the meeting the threat level change also could prompt an evacuation request for Kaohe, which is about 1.1 miles from the flow.
Civil Defense plans to provide an evacuation notice at least five days before the flow hits the community. At its current rate, the flow could be a week away from reaching the rural subdivision, Kauahikaua said.
Oliveira said he will speak with HVO staff more before making a decision to evacuate Kaohe, adding that the situation could change.
He urged those in attendance to make a plan in case they need to leave.
“It could continue to be a frustrating experience for all of you,” Oliveira said.
The meeting was the fourth opportunity for the public to ask Civil Defense and HVO staff about the flow, which has covered 8 miles since emerging from Pu‘u ‘O‘O on June 27.
A couple people asked about diverting the flow.
Oliveira said that is not being considered since such actions may threaten another community. There are also cultural concerns to consider, he said.
Kauahikaua noted that attempts to block the 1960 flow from Kapoho failed.
“As you notice, there are no barriers there anymore,” he said.
Kauahikaua said lava is moving to the northeast because Pu‘u ‘O‘O is the weakest on that side. Previously, the south flank was its weakest, which is why most lava flowed in that direction for the past 30 years.
He said it’s hard to say how long activity on the northeast flank will continue.
“We just watch and learn,” Kauahikaua said.
“It’s likely to stay on one side for awhile,” he added.
The flow has been moving in and out of cracks, which have helped direct it along Kilauea’s East Rift Zone.
Once it advances away from the cracks, the flow will likely move more to the northeast than its current path, Kauahikaua said.
Beach, Waawaa and Chain of Craters roads have been identified as potential alternate routes if Highway 130 is covered.
About 7 miles of Chain of Craters Road was covered in lava by past flows. Oliveira said reopening the road would be financed by Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and state Department of Transportation if that decision is made.
Such an effort would cost millions of dollars, he said, but he declined to provide a more specific number without talking with DOT first.
Oliveira said Civil Defense will be knocking on doors in Kaohe on Wednesday to inform residents of the situation and find out how many need temporary shelter.
Efforts are also underway to relocate livestock and other animals.
Another meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the school.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.