Health officials urge vulnerable Puna patients to relocate

Health officials urge vulnerable Puna patients to relocate
Latest lava flow map (Image source: USGS)
Latest lava flow map (Image source: USGS)

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Puna residents who depend on medical treatment are being urged by the Hawaii State Department of Health to relocate now in case lava covers the main highway.

"People who receive oxygen, people who have dialysis treatment, all of those people might need regular care, and when the lava crosses Highway 130, if it crosses Highway 130, potentially many of those services may be severely limited or cut off," said DOH spokesperson Janice Okubo.

Okubo said the department is working with the county to identify and reach out to people who may be at risk.

"Certainly, government can make contingency plans for those people who are at risk, but people need to take personal responsibility. We won't be able to help every single person out there," Okubo said.

If the lava covers the highway, the Puna Community Medical Center hopes to set up a second clinic on the other side of the flow. The facility will need to find more workers and funding.

"We need money. We're not going to do this without assistance. We have small pockets," said Dan Domizio, the center's clinical programs director. "Puna Community Medical Center can afford to put some of this up-front, but we'd have to get reimbursed in order to survive."

Domizio hopes vulnerable patients will move away, but he said there is a lack of alternate housing since many people have already left.

"There are people who want to take it seriously, but where are they going to live? Try finding an apartment now in Hilo. I mean, it's impossible," said Domizio.

"We realize that people may not have choices due to limited resources currently throughout the community, but if we can at least be aware of where those vulnerable populations are, citizens and community members, we can at least be prepared for what challenges may be coming," said Darryl Oliveira, Hawaii County's director of Civil Defense.

County officials said the flow front has advanced another 120 yards since Monday and is continuing to produce a significant amount of smoke as it burns through a tree line. Crews mopped up hot spots from brush fire that was sparked Monday afternoon. Officials said smoke conditions in the area were moderate Tuesday morning, but they are expected to improve when winds pick up later in the day.

Officials said currently all lava flow activity does not pose an immediate threat to area communities. Hawai'i County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said no evacuation is needed at this time and residents will be given adequate notice to safely evacuate should that be necessary. However, officials said due to the unpredictable nature of the lava flow — residents and visitors are advised to listen for Hawai'i County Civil Defense updates and advisories on the radio.

USGS geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory estimate the Puna lava flow could reach Apa'a Street in Pahoa in about 15 days, if it continues moving at its current rate of 390 ft/day. It has moved downslope by about 720 yards since Wednesday. USGS geologists said the flow has widened to about 230 ft. They said the leading edge of the flow is a little less than a mile from Apa'a Street. USGS said the advance rate of the flow has varied significantly during the past month and their latest projection is subject to change. Scientists aboard Monday afternoon's overflight said they observed active breakouts upslope of the flow front, in the area that lava first entered ground cracks, that were burning forest at numerous spots along the flow margin. The next HVO overflight is scheduled for Wednesday, October 8.

According to USGS, the Pu'u 'O'o vent in the East Rift Zone of Kilauea Volcano began erupting on January 3, 1983, and has continued erupting for more than 31 years with the majority of lava flows advancing to the south. Over the past two years, lava flows have also begun moving toward the northeast. The June 27th flow is the most recent of these flows and the first to threaten a residential area since 2010-2011. On June 27, 2014, new vents opened on the northeast flank of the Pu'u 'O'o cone — feeding a narrow lava flow to the east-northeast. On August 18, the flow entered a ground crack, traveled underground for several days, then resurfaced to form a small lava pad. Lava eventually emerged from the last crack on September 6, forming a surface flow that initially moved to the north, then to the northeast, at a rate of 1,300 ft/day, before slowing between September 12 and 19 to 740 ft/day, then stalling on September 22. New breakouts behind the flow front began to push forward, overtaking the stalled front on September 29 and have continued advancing about 390 ft/day between October 3 and 6.

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