PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time since the Pu'u O'o crater flow started on June 27, officials are describing the impact it will have in the Pahoa area as inevitable.
"There's no indication the eruption is going to stop. We all need to plan and prepare for the possible events that would unfold, which is it coming through and affecting the highway and residential and business areas. As far as where it's going to go, it's still uncertain so we're tracking it very closely," said Hawai'i County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira.
The Lava flow could reach the edge of the Kaohe Homesteads subdivision as early as Friday afternoon. USGS geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory made that prediction after their flyover Thursday afternoon and later that night during a community meeting at Pahoa High School. They said they believe the flow could hit Pahoa Village Road in the next 10 days and might reach Highway 130 within two weeks.
"The flow at it's source has not slowed down and so we're talking about significant volume sustained over a period of time. Based on the current advancement, current output, we're looking at a steady progression in a few weeks crossing Highway 130," said Hawai'i Island Mayor Billy Kenoi.
The USGS estimate is based off of a clear shift in the lava flow's path and their assessment of its speed. For the past week it had been moving steadily in a north-northeasterly direction running parallel to the Wao Kele Forest Reserve and Kaohe Homestead boundary, but it shifted Thursday and is now advancing about 300-400 yards per day directly toward the rural neighborhood. Scientists say the flow is traveling quickly through a narrow lava tube system.
"This long tube system that's keeping the lava hot means that lava is going to continue to be funneled to the flow front and it looks like that's going to keep happening and so the consequence of that of that is it's going to keep moving downhill and it's going to keep moving toward residential areas for the foreseeable future," said Steven Brantley, the USGS Deputy scientist-in-charge at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Officials say there is still the possibility that it may miss Kaohe Homesteads or only clip the top northeast corner of it as it passes through. There are about 30 - 40 households in the rural neighborhood -- and officials say the closest home is still about a mile away from the flow front.
Approximately 500 people packed into Pahoa High School cafeteria for Thursday night's community meeting with geologists from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and officials from Hawai'i County Civil Defense. In the past, the townhalls were inundated with questions from the public about diversion but that was not the case Thursday night. Instead, there seemed to be more of a sense of acceptance and reverence, even from those who may take a direct hit in Kaohe Homesteads and Pahoa.
"She's gonna come, it's inevitable. So I'm thankful for the planning. We just have to wait and see. We don't know what she's going to do. We don't know where she's going to go," said Lori Enriquez, a Kaohe Homesteads resident.
"If it wasn't for Pele we wouldn't be here today. We wouldn't call Hawai'i Hawai'i. I respect Tutu Pele 100%," said Ikaika Marzo, a Pahoa resident.
Bulldozers were running early Friday morning to continue work on an emergency alternate road that will route through Hawaiian Beaches and Hawaiian Paradise Park and bypass Highway 130 in case it's hit by the lava flow. Officials say the work they're doing on Railroad Avenue and Government Beach Road will continue through the weekend. The four miles they're clearing to connect Railroad Avenue should be completed by September 24, but officials say Government Beach Road is more challenging as they balance the needs to provide access and also be culturally respectful since there are known burial grounds in the area. They'll be driving it Friday with officials from the state historical preservation division to see what they can identify and possibly avoid. Officials are also considering a third emergency route.
"If the lava flow continues across 130 and Mother Nature takes it's course and goes to the ocean, which means it crosses Railroad Avenue access route and Old Government Beach Road access route -- then we're going to have to really establish a route from the south and that's Chain of Craters Road that has already been affected by a lava flow, but it will be from the south a way to connect the community to the rest of the island," said Brandon Gonzalez, the Deputy Director of the Dept. of Public Works.
At this time Hawai'i County Civil Defense officials have not ordered an evacuation -- however, they're asking all residents of the area to please continue to monitor their daily radio message should the situation change and they've been going door-to-door in the Kaohe Homesteads neighborhood to speak with folks directly. Again: they say the danger is not imminent. They don't want anyone to panic, but they do want folks to take this time to start planning. An emergency preparedness information fair will be held at Pahoa High School cafeteria Saturday, September 13 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Agency experts and representatives will be on-hand to answer questions about moving, storage, insurance, legal matters, healthcare and other concerns residents may have.