East Hawaii News

HVO, Civil Defense Give Latest Lava Flow Update

August 29, 2014, 6:12 AM HST
* Updated August 29, 8:48 AM
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At least 175 people packed the Pahoa Community Center last night to hear Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge Jim Kauahikaua and Hawai`i County Civil Defense chief Daryl Oliveira provide the latest updates on the position of a lava flow threatening residential areas and infrastructure in Puna.

As Kauahikaua explained, there is currently no surface lava flow visible. Instead, HVO scientists believe that lava is slowly making its way through a system of cracks in the terrain.

HVO’s chief scientist described a “clearly visible” steam plume being seen from the air, leading researchers to believe that “there is movement.”  Kauahikaua described the flow’s current strength as “active, although it is relatively weakly active.”

A large crowd gathers to hear the latest updates on the June 27 flow threatening the Puna district. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

A large crowd gathers to hear the latest updates on the June 27 flow threatening the Puna district. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

According to an update released just hours before Thursday night’s presentation, the “steaming crack” thought to currently contain the lava flow was located approximately 2.74 km southwest of the Wao Kele Puna Forest Reserve boundary.

Kauahikaua estimated that the flow had advanced approximately one mile within the last week, but that it had not done so at a constant rate.

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During a later question-and-answer session with the public, Kauahikaua warned against trying to predict the flow’s future strength and speed, describing its behavior as “variable,” and going on to state that HVO scientists “can’t say whether it’s strengthening or weakening, or what may happen today or tomorrow.”

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When asked how quickly the flow could threaten residential areas, Kauahikaua responded that the lava would take “weeks to months” to threaten homes, but that the uneven terrain in the area of the flow could cause a significant change in direction. HVO’s chief scientist described the difficulty in forecasting the flow’s path, explaining that researchers “can’t even see all the terrain that’s there…even with the best of scanners.”

Civil Defense chief Daryl Oliveira addresses a large crowd in Pahoa about the June 27 lava flow threat. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Civil Defense chief Daryl Oliveira addresses a large crowd in Pahoa about the June 27 lava flow threat. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Civil Defense chief Daryl Oliveira informed the public that due to rainy conditions in the area, there were currently no brush fires expected to develop due to the lava flow. He also added that current smoke and sulfur dioxide exposure in residential areas was minimal, and posed little risk to the public.

Oliveira thanked the Puna community “for their resilience,” and promised residents that county engineers were actively working to evaluate multiple evacuation routes well in advance of any threat, an assurance that brought applause from the crowd.

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The Civil Defense chief estimated that the county would need one to two weeks to open up access to alternate routes, should the flow appear to threaten roadways. Oliveira mentioned Railroad Avenue and Beach Road as among the paths county engineers were evaluating.

This image shows the June 27 lava flow advancing toward the Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve boundary. USGS Image.

This image shows the June 27 lava flow advancing toward the Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve boundary. USGS Image.

The Civil Defense chief also discouraged people from attempting to view the June 27 lava flow from the ground, due to the dangerous terrain in the area. Kauahikaua echoed that sentiment, warning those in attendance that people attempting to traverse the area surrounding the flow “could disappear forever.”

When asked by one resident if the county planned to “bomb” the lava flow from the sky, Oliveira summed up the problems inherent in attempting to divert or predict a lava flow’s path, reminding the crowd that “mother nature will do what she will do.”

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