Hundreds Gather at Puna Lava Flow Meeting
Thursday night marked the seventh week of lava update community meetings for residents in lower Puna.
The meeting was held at the jam-packed Pahoa High School cafeteria.
Representatives from Hawai’i Civil Defense and the Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory were joined by several elected officials, including Hawai’i County Mayor Billy Kenoi, United States Representative Tulsi Gabbard and U.S. Senator Brian Schatz.
Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira opened the meeting, immediately addressing concerns regarding misinformation spreading throughout the public, including the status of the Pahoa Post Office.
“There’s a lot of rumors out there that the post office is closing tomorrow. It is not true,” said Oliveira. “Their goal is to stay operational as long as it is safe to do so. We’re going to be working, both Civil Defense and the Postmaster, to determine whether there is any potential threat to the post office area so that they can make arrangements to continue providing those services through what other means they can. But at this point, the post office is not closed.”
The announcement drew great applause from the over-sized crowd.
Oliveira also addressed information released in recent Civil Defense radio messages about health care accessibility should lava cross major roads. He made it clear through his apology that the intent was not to convey fear or confusion, but to relay a message from the Department of Health that regular occurring health assistance may not be realistic in the future should lava impact the roads.
“There may be limited access, especially for those individuals who need to go to a physician in Hilo or someone else on a regular basis more than once a week for basic health care needs. That schedule may not be comfortable going forward. Even though we have alternate access roads, it’s not going to be a convenient track to accommodate that.”
The message that was trying to be relayed through Civil Defense messages was to prepare residents with these needs to make alternative plans.
Community members were also briefed on the latest movements of the June 27 Kilauea lava flow by Steven Brantley, HVO acting scientist-in-charge.
Brantley focused on two main points. He emphasized that the current active lava flow is advancing at a slow pace, and that although it is moving slowly now, the rate of speed that the lava flow is moving at remains unpredictable, making previous projections inaccurate.
The lava has advanced 65 yards per day for the past two days, as compared to 110 yards per day in the previous three.
The most recent projection, issued Thursday morning, is that the lava could reach Apa’a St. in 14 days. The flow front was measured to be 0.9 miles from Apa’a St. and 1.6 miles from Pahoa Village Road.
However, Brantley warned that as long as the lava flow speed continues to vary, projections will be wrong.
Gabbard also took the floor, addressing the crowd with a positive demeanor. She praised the lower Puna community for its cohesion and up-lifting spirit.
“I have been so inspired by all of you, by a community such as yours coming together through some very difficult times, and somehow, even through all of the hardship remaining positive, remaining very optimistic and very resilient. You’re an example for the rest of us to follow, especially through these times of hardship,” Gabbard said in addressing the crowd.
Additionally, Gabbard gave an update on her communication with the federal government. She noted that it is a difficult task to explain what’s happening since many of these issues are unique to the state.
Kenoi, like Gabbard, addressed the crowd in a positive manner. He offered residents in attendance his commitment to accessibility, stating that, “as long as people have power and telephone service, then people have choices.”
After the discussion session of the meeting was complete, community members in attendance had the opportunity to talk with various agencies and community organizations, addressing their concerns.
The next lava update community meeting is scheduled for next Thursday at 6:30 p.m.