A slow-moving river of molten lava from an erupting volcano crept over residential and farm property on Hawaii’s Big Island on Wednesday after incinerating an outbuilding as it threatened dozens of homes at the edge of a former plantation town.
The lava flow from the Kilauea volcano has been slogging toward the village of Pahoa for weeks, moving at speeds of 10 to 15 yards (meters) an hour as it bubbled over a cemetery and reached the community’s outskirts.
As of Wednesday afternoon, authorities reported the lava had advanced to within 205 yards of Pahoa Village Road, the main street through the town of about 800 people built on the site of an old sugar plantation.
Pahoa’s commercial district lies mostly to the south of the area in greatest danger, and most homes and businesses are believed to be out of harm’s way, based on the lava’s current trajectory, civil defence chief Darryl Oliveira said.
But residents of about 50 dwellings in what civil defence officials called a “corridor of risk” have been urged to be prepared to leave, and many have been slowly emptying their homes of furniture and belongings.
Oliveira told a news conference that officials had met about a dozen residents and business owners closest to the leading edge. He said all were prepared to leave, but added they intended to wait until the last minute before evacuating.
No mandatory evacuations have been ordered.
Oliveira added that 83 national guard troops were undergoing training and would be deployed to the community on Thursday.
Besides anxiety, some residents, like Aaron Milewski, voiced resignation about the forces of nature they faced.
“This energy is coming from the center of the Earth, so you have to respect it,” he said.
Molten rock topping temperatures of 1,650 F (900 C) engulfed a storage shed on Tuesday but bypassed a rental house that was already evacuated, Oliveira said.
A slower-moving, narrower finger of lava then branched out off the main flow and oozed back toward the abandoned home, crawling to within 100 feet (30 meters) of it on Wednesday, Oliveira said. It remained to be seen whether the house would be spared.
The main lava front continued to creep over adjacent farm property, taking aim at a warehouse and home. Another property owner built a tall berm of soil and rock hoping to divert the approaching lava around his house.
The flow is expected eventually to reach the ocean, still 6 miles (10 km) away, authorities said.
Monte Romero, a resident of nearby Hawaiian Paradise Park, which is not in the lava’s projected path, said at the barricaded end of Pahoa Village Road on Wednesday evening that he came to make an offering of leaves to Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes.
“It was emotional for me,” Romero said with tears in his eyes. “But it’s not sadness. It’s just my connection to the land, this land of enchantment.”
Kilauea has erupted continuously from its Pu’u O’o vent since 1983, with its latest lava flow beginning on June 27. The last home destroyed by lava on the Big Island was at the Royal Gardens subdivision in Kalapana in 2012.
(Reporting by Karin Stanton; Writing by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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