Hawaiian Village In Lava’s Path Awaits Fate Amid New Uncertainty

The lava flow the started June 27 has slowed recently but is less than a mile from populated areas. The lava flow the started June 27 has slowed recently but is less than a mile from populated areas. USGS

A slowly-moving lava flow that has been creeping toward a village on Hawaii’s Big Island since June has effectively stalled less than a mile from the edge of Pahoa. At least for now.

“This still is an active flow,” Mike Poland, a United States Geological Survey research geophysicist at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, said Thursday during a community update on the lava flow, which started on June 27 inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and has been heading in a northeastern direction toward populated areas and a state highway.

“It’s getting lava through the tube, it’s being delivered toward the tip,” Poland said, according to video posted by Hawaii247. “It just isn’t pushing that flow forward at that much right now.”

The lava flow is slowly creeping through forests and vegetation outside the village of Pahoa on Hawaii's Big Island. (USGS photo)

The lava flow’s “advance rate” has fluctuated in recent weeks, so it’s hard to make any accurate predictions on the precise timing of the lava’s advancement. “It’s very difficult to forecast when these flows may become a problem for Pahoa village,” Poland said. “In fact, with it stalled, it’s completely impossible to say when it might hit.”

The threat of the lava through coming through the village and cutting off an important state road has forced Hawaii County officials to plot out all the what-if scenarios.

As Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi said during Thursday’s community meeting, that means preparing for the possibility that local fire service could find itself divided by the lava flow.

But the county has a plan for that, the mayor said: “If the lava breaches Highway 130, we, us, all of us . . . County of Hawaii residents, we’re going to create a whole new fire station which means people on one side of the flow get the exact same service on the other side of the flow.”

Hawaii County officials are prepared to borrow up to $20 million to pay for emergency road work to ensure that residents of the Puna area have access to the rest of the island should the lava cross Highway 130. Alternate routes have been constructed but they too are likely in the path of the lava if it continues on its march to the ocean.

On Wednesday, Hawaii County Council members OK’d a resolution that would allow the county to authorize a bond issue for the emergency roadwork should funding from the Federal Highway Administration or the Federal Emergency Management Agency not materialize, West Hawaii Today reported.

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