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TRACKING THE FLOW: Lava’s advance being watched closely in Puna


The ordinarily quiet streets of Kaohe Homesteads south of Pahoa bustled with activity Tuesday.

Neighbors visited with each other to share the latest news, and residents from nearby communities were busy driving through to see what they could see — scoping out the area public safety officials say could be the first in line if an unpredictable lava flow 2 miles away continues on its path.

The small, sparsely populated community, nestled between Pahoa and Leilani Estates subdivision along Highway 130, sits to the east of the approaching June 27 lava flow, named for the date when it first emerged from the flank of Pu‘u ‘O‘o on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone.

At a meeting Monday evening in Pahoa, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge Jim Kauahikaua explained the speed and direction of the flow has been difficult to ascertain as it has made its way in and out of deep cracks in the terrain, often hidden from view — given away only by telltale plumes of steam rising from the ground.

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

Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira told attendees that scientists will continue to monitor the flow closely. Should an evacuation be required, residents would have “days, not hours” to abandon their homes.

“The problem right now is, it’s kind of like we’re blind,” Hawaiian Paradise Park resident Scott Hicks said Tuesday. “We can’t see it, we can’t smell it, we don’t know where it’s gonna go. But it’s out there.”

Hicks and his wife, Mary, are former residents of Kaohe and were returning home on their motor scooter Tuesday after visiting with a friend in the neighborhood to share information about Monday night’s meeting.

“We live in HPP, and we’re concerned, too. It could go anywhere. That’s what happened with Kalapana. It was going one way, and then it was going another way,” he said.

Formerly of Ohio, Hicks said that many of the people who live in Puna choose to live there for its isolation and rural nature. But those same positives can quickly become negatives once disaster strikes.

“There’s only one road in and one road out. You’re out, off the beaten path. You know it when you move here,” he said.

Tobias and Claudia Rivera bought a piece of property two years ago in Leilani Estates, and recent events have worried them about the home they are currently building.

“(Monday’s meeting) left us concerned and apprehensive,” Tobias Rivera said. “Personally, for us, we just bought property two years ago, and we’ve put a lot of investment in it. We’re curious if we should continue building.”

Claudia Rivera added that in the near-term, the pair is working to be more prepared than many people were before Tropical Storm Iselle ravaged lower Puna.

“Similar to the hurricane, we’re worried that everybody will be heading out to get the same things. Going the same direction. It makes it difficult to formulate a plan,” she said.

Ultimately, however, no one knows where the lava might go, and spreading rumors and misinformation is counter-productive, said Pahoa resident Stephen Ridsdale.

“Everybody’s becoming an expert on this overnight, saying it will go to Ainaloa, Leilani Estates, Nanawale Estates,” he said. “Right now, we just need to stay informed.”

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

 

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