Officials: Berm not to blame for Puna lava flow stalling or widening

Puna lava flow front hasn't advanced for three days, breakouts upslope remain active 10pm

PAHOA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Puna lava flow isn't moving forward, but experts say it's still active upslope where it's been expanding -- in one spot by as much as 300 yards. Residents who live along Pahoa Village Road and Apaa Street are wondering if the stall and the subsequent widening of the flow have anything to do with one property owner's berm.

"This is a really tough time for all the residents and there's a lot of question as to how that berm and the flow -- how they'll interact and how it'll impact neighbors and there may be tension or stress and we're just hoping this doesn't become something that divides the community," said Hawaii County Civil Defense Director.

The leading edge of the Puna lava flow hasn't advanced since Thursday.

"From my porch I see that they're building a second trench and it seems that they're berming a very large green house but in order to berm they're cutting another trench and I'm just wondering if this is having any effect and I'm not the only one," said John Hutchison, who lives in the self-described red zone.

USGS geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano observatory say that's not the case.

"Anything man-made out here is not the reason why this lava flow has stalled. The flow tip has not touched the berm and therefore the breakouts up here, you cannot attribute to the fact that there's this berm down here that's stalled the flow. This flow hasn't moved in awhile because that magma is oozing out here. So the lava is coming down in more vigorous breakouts up above and that's basically starving the front of its magma supply and so this thing is widening but hadn't moved downslope any more toward the Pahoa Village road," said USGS geologist Frank Trusdell.

At the leading edge the flow now measures approximately 35 yards, just south of the Pahoa cemetery it's about 200 and its grown more than 500 yards behind Apaa Street.

"As the flow widens of course then the downslope areas get wider as well and so the potential impact for people spreads out over a larger area," Trusdell said.

And that's what makes residents so worried.

"The hardest part is sleeping. I literally have slept with my shoes on because I don't know or I didn't know. But yeah, it's uneasy," said Hutchison.

Officials though want to assure residents they don't have to worry.

"None of them should be thinking that lava's going to flood their house without anybody giving them adequate warning. We're working on their behalf. We're here to try to do the best to track this lava flow," said Trusdell.

Officials say they understand difficult it is for residents right now not knowing when or where the flow may pick up and hit. Many have packed up their stoves and beds, only to find themselves still watching and waiting -- and yet officials say they're all still so respectful and patient.

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