Wednesday | January 18, 2017
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TRACKING THE FLOW: Officials ask residents to be prepared

Hawaii Island public safety officials are asking lower Puna residents to remain vigilant as scientists continue to track a lava flow that is within 2 miles of homes.

The June 27 flow, named for the date it began, is moving at a speed of about 200 to 300 feet per day, according to Jim Kauahikaua, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientist-in-charge.

Kaohe Homesteads, just outside of Pahoa village, is the closest community to the flow. While not immediately threatened, that could change if the flow continues on its path, county and HVO officials cautioned during a meeting Monday evening at the Pahoa Community Center.

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

The flow continues to be aided by large fractures in the ground that allow it to move more quickly and below dense vegetation.

On Monday, the lava emerged from one crack before apparently flowing into another, said Janet Babb, HVO geologist.

“The area out there is highly fractured,” she said, adding the path remains difficult to predict.

The flow is fed by the Pu‘u ‘O‘o vent on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone.

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

Oliveira said the county has spoken with the Red Cross about opening emergency shelters for residents if needed, and possible emergency evacuation routes are also being analyzed.

“We are trying to identify as soon as possible the likely path,” he said, adding that will determine the county’s response.

The flow could eventually reach Highway 130 if it doesn’t stop or get rerouted. For much of lower Puna, the highway is the only road in and out of their communities.

If the flow completely isolates residents and remains active, one option might even be carving a path through the roughly 7-mile stretch of Chain of Craters Road already covered by past lava flows from Pu‘u ‘O‘o, county officials said.

“Many different scenarios are being looked at,” Oliveira said. “Obviously, we will put things into action based on life and safety priorities.”

Cindy Orlando, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park superintendent, wasn’t sure that idea was realistic but said the park would help the county in ways that it could.

“There’s a reason why there isn’t a road there anymore,” she said.

Mayor Billy Kenoi said at the meeting Monday that every option was on the table. That also includes possible ways to divert the flow.

Oliveira said he and other county officials met Sunday evening with Kaohe residents to give them the latest updates and begin discussions about what might happen should the community need to evacuate.

“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 opening the floor to questions Monday, it became clear the residents in Puna have had their fill of disaster following Tropical Storm Iselle.

The Pahoa Community Center was filled, with very 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.

Another meeting was hosted Tuesday and one more gathering will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the community center.

Questions at the first meeting began to come quickly and with more than a little frustration accompanying them, with some in the crowd shouting over each other.

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.”

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