Monday | February 20, 2017
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What’s lava’s next move?

A lava flow moving toward populated areas along Kilauea’s East Rift Zone remains difficult to predict a week after scientists and public safety officials began warning about its approach.

The June 27 flow, named for the day it emerged from Pu‘u ‘O‘o, has kept officials on their toes as it moves in and out of the area’s numerous large fractures, another sign of Pele’s presence.

Steam coming from the cracks and thermal imaging help scientists pinpoint the lava’s location, but knowing when and where it will reach the surface again can be a guessing game.

“As long as the lava is moving through those cracks, it’s very difficult,” said Janet Babb, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist.

The lava showed itself again Friday as it emerged from a crack, though it may not be visible for long.

Another large fracture adjacent to the flow could redirect it and bring the lava underground once again.

Meanwhile, Hawaii County Civil Defense officials are still urging residents down hill to be prepared.

At a meeting in Pahoa on Thursday evening, HVO Scientist-in-Charge Jim Kauahikaua said the flow could be “weeks to months” from reaching Kaohe Homesteads, a rural neighborhood near Pahoa.

“The lava flow continues to be active, although relatively weakly active,” he said.

A few days ago, scientists were “cautiously optimistic” the flow had stalled at its farthest point.

Babb said that has changed, though she added it wasn’t immediately clear Friday how much more it had progressed.

Darryl Oliveira, Civil Defense administrator, estimated the flow was about 1.6 miles from the homes Friday based on the agency’s overflight early that morning.

Civil Defense has been preparing for the possibility of an evacuation, and Oliveira told the crowd at the Pahoa Community Center that residents would be told to evacuate five days before the lava is expected to arrive.

He said his agency is also considering alternate routes should the flow reach Highway 130, including Beach, Waawaa and Chain of Craters roads.

Civil Defense is conducting daily flights in the area to monitor the flow. HVO is flying over the area at least every other day.

Oliveira said the daily flights will continue.

Civil Defense is also hosting additional community meetings regarding the flow at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at the Pahoa High School cafeteria.

With the county and nearby residents on alert, the flow has also caught the attention of others who hope to get a look at one of nature’s most destructive forces.

Oliveira said two people were spotted near the flow during an overflight Thursday and many other sightseers have been driving through Kaohe.

He is urging people to stay away for their own safety, and said a state Department of Forestry and Wildlife officer was posted in the neighborhood Friday.

It’s not just the lava sightseers should be worried about, Oliveira said. The large fractures also pose a hidden danger.

“It’s so covered in vegetation,” he said of the area. “You can see the formations on the ground (from the air). The cracks are huge.”

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