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Can modern technology be used to divert Madame Pele?

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The diversion debate is a hot topic as lava advances slowly toward homes and ranches in Kaohe Homesteads.

Attempts have been made to change the direction of the lava flow to protect property in Hawaii in the past.

The U.S. Army bombed the lava in 1935, trying to keep it from Hilo's water supply, when General George Patton took on Mauna Loa.

University of Hawaii Manoa Geology Professor Michael Garcia explained what happened, saying "He thought well gee, let's take an opportunity to see whether we can divert lava flows using bombs. He sent out his bombers and unfortunately they weren't very successful. The bombs either hit the lava flows and bounced off or they exploded within the lava flows and had no effect."

"Mighty General vs. Madame Pele? And the General lost" said Garcia.

"Pele is pele so you respect what it's going to be" said a Big Island resident at a community meeting, warning about messing with Madame Pele.

Garcia recalls another strategy to save Kapoho from lava in 1960 by a UH Volcanologist. "He had bulldozers build a wall. Lava flow went over the wall. He built another wall. Lava went over that wall so eventually he gave up and said if Pele is going to take it, she's going to take it."

But a lighthouse was spared. As Garcia put it, The lava flow came down to the lighthouse and for some miraculous reason, it parted as it went around the lighthouse into the ocean without injuring the lighthouse."

This latest lava threat is an uphill battle, given the gentle slope that funnels the flow.

UH Geology Professor Patty Fryer explained the challenges, saying "A low terrain and lava or water or whatever liquid you have is going to move downhill and that's the thing that's the most difficult."

Garcia added, "If you divert a lava flow, it's going to go somewhere else so if you're protecting this community, are you going to put another at risk?"

Another method used in Iceland involved spraying seawater. In this case, the eruption stopped on its own.

UH scientists say the best bet would be to block the flow closer to the source at Pu'u O'o, but it could still move underground.

"With respect to how much lava is going to be involved with this eruption, nobody knows that" said Fryer. "Nobody's ever going to know that."

You also never know what Pele will do. Garcia said, "It's entirely possible that the entire community may be saved by Pele changing her mind and moving in a different direction."

People who live there can't count on that. They're packing up, and moving animals, in case the lava reaches their homes.

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