One day after Hawai'i Island's mayor extended the state of emergency because of the Puna lava flow threat, business owners at the Pahoa Marketplace met with county officials to prepare in case they need to evacuate.
If that happens, the only pharmacy and urgent care center in the area -- along with a grocery store and gas station -- could be cut off from the community or closed completely.
The lava is about 2.5 miles away from the marketplace now after advancing 170 yards since Wednesday. The Puna lava flow's new leading edge has been heading directly toward Malama Market and the Pahoa Marketplace, but it's about 400 yards away from a critical juncture where two paths of steepest descent nearly converge -- which is why experts can't predict just yet where it will ultimately go or how quickly it will get there.
First residents, now retailers are experiencing the anxiety of uncertainty.
"Everybody is a little on edge. The waiting game -- the not-knowing -- is a very challenging thing," said Abby Petersen, co-owner of boutique Jungle Love.
Malama Market officials say they're prepared to evacuate within three days of notice -- and are establishing satellite locations that can offer key necessities like rice, water, canned and paper goods.
"We are also receiving support from our neighboring sister stores Foodland Kea'au, Sack N Save Puainako, and Sack N Save Hilo and our vendors to carry extra product for us. We are ready to serve the community and take care of their needs," wrote Malama Market officials in a statement released to Hawaii News Now.
"It's going to be really hard on all of us if we don't have these services anymore. I just can't imagine it being gone, it'll be really tough on us," said Michael Gonzales, who has been shopping at Malama Market since they opened in 2005.
It's not just convenience, but necessity that brings patients into the Puna Community Medical Center. Doctors plan to relocate to a second site across from Pahoa High School if they need to leave, but they're hoping the flow will cross somewhere in between the two so that they can continue to serve both sides.
"Even if their primary care is not able to see them -- we'll still be able to provide urgent health care services, to refill medications and to evaluate people who come in with acute health care needs," said Dr. Hart Miller.
If Long's Drugs is forced to to close, store officials say they'll continue to fill prescriptions in Hilo.
"Should there be a longer-term need, we may rent temporary space in the Pahoa area to have prescriptions delivered by our other pharmacies for customers to pick up," wrote Long's Drugs officials in a statement released to Hawaii News Now.
Customers are hoping for a contingency plan that would offer mobile pharmacy services so they can avoid the long trek.
"If we have to drive all the way to Hilo and if Highway 130, Railroad and Beach get compromised -- it'll be like a two and a half hour drive to Hilo," said Derrick Ah Sing, a Pahoa resident.
Several restaurants, like Pahoa Fresh Fish, will be impacted as well.
"We decided to come today just in order to make sure we got at least one last time of eating here before anything happens," said Susan Shaw, a frequent customer.
Hawai'i County Civil Defense officials say they're in close contact with each business to ensure they will have the individualized time needed to safely leave -- but won't issue an evacuation advisory until a threat is imminent.
"Businesses here would like to stay in operation as long as possible, because they are members of the community and I think the other piece of it is their employees are residents in the community. The closure of a business has a far-reaching impact, not just with the availability of goods and services but the possible unemployment of people as well," said Hawai'i County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira, who say they're also taking into consideration how difficult it might be for businesses to recover from an evacuation advisory as well.
"If we were to direct the gas station to empty its fuel tanks and to then address the fire and explosion hazard by filling the tanks with water -- if we do that too soon, they may not be able to service the needs of the community and if the flow should stop, there will be difficulty with them to recover. We're very sensitive to what the decisions and the impact of decisions will have and we just want to coordinate it very well," Director Oliveira said.
USGS geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory say the flow is advancing north/northeast both on top of and along the northwest margin of the original June 27th flow. They say the new leading edge is following a different steepest-descent path than the previously active flow lobe. The new forecast path takes the flow towards the intersection of Pahoa Village Road and Highway 130, in the vicinity of the Pahoa Marketplace. However, experts say the flow is approaching an area of gentler topography where two steepest-descent paths nearly converge making it difficult for them to predict what direction it will head while the activity remains upslope of this point. As of Wednesday morning, HVO scientists say the flow was within about 550 yards of the point where several lines of steepest descent nearly converge.
Smoke conditions were moderate Thursday morning in the immediate area and down through the Kaohe, Leilani, Nanawale, and other lower Puna areas to the southeast of the flow. Officials say smoke conditions may increase in some areas and residents who may be sensitive or have respiratory problems are advised to take precautions and remain indoors, if possible.
Pahoa Village Road reopened to all traffic last week, but officials are reminding motorists to drive carefully as some utility pole protection material is still in place. Authorities are also reminding people passing through the area to please respect residents who were affected by the lava flow and do not trespass on private property.
Hawai'i County Civil Defense and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory personnel are continuing to monitor flow activity and say residents down slope will be kept informed of any changes in advancement and status.
For the latest Civil Defense message, click HERE.
For more information, contact Hawai'i County Civil Defense at (808) 935-0031.
More details tonight on Hawaii News Now.
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