Gov. Ige visits Puna; lava now six-tenths of a mile from Pahoa M - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Gov. Ige visits Puna; lava now six-tenths of a mile from Pahoa Marketplace

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USGS photo from Dec. 16 USGS photo from Dec. 16
PAHOA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Gov. David Ige made his first visit to Puna to see the lava flow first-hand Thursday as Hawaii County officials prepare to open a detour on Railroad Avenue.

Ige met with Hawai'i County Civil Defense officials and flew over the leading edge Thursday afternoon. He also stopped by Kea'au High School, where about 500 students and staff were relocated to the parking lot when Keonepoko Elementary School was forced to close in anticipation of the lava flow's projected path. 

"Department of Education is really looking at how we can create a safe environment and how most importantly, how we can continue to provide a quality education for the children here in Puna," Ige told the crowd at a community meeting at Pahoa Thursday night.

Meanwhile, Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi announced that the Railroad Avenue detour between the Nanawale Estates and Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivisions will open Saturday at noon.

"(Hawaii County Civil Defense) Chief (Darryl Oliveira) has been in communication with all of our individual subdivisions and letting them know that our Puna community will begin utilizing our alternative access," Kenoi told the gathering. 

"We wanna open up Railroad, get people used to it, understanding it, using it." he said.

The governor also assured the crowd that the state was prepared to help.

"Just please know that I will be working with the mayor and Chief Oliveira to really ensure the safety, health and well-being of your community," said Ige.

The U.S.G.S. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said the leading edge of the Puna lava flow slowed a bit as it passed through flatter topography and had also split into two branches, but was still heading downslope toward the Pahoa Marketplace and is now about 0.6 miles away from the shopping center. HVO scientists say an active breakout a mile and a half upslope near the True/Mid-Pacific geothermal well site may have also contributed to its decreased speed. Experts say at its current advance rate, the flow front could reach the Pahoa Marketplace in the next six days.

Hawai'i County Civil Defense officials said the Puna lava flow advanced east-northeast another 165 yards since Wednesday. Oliveira said none of the activity poses any immediate threat to area communities.

The U.S.G.S. said the flow is about five miles long, measured from its breakout point in the crack system, and is moving along a steepest descent path that leads to the Pahoa Marketplace. HVO scientists said the leading tip of the flow is approximately 220 yards wide. USGS geologists on-site said they observed the leading edge had turned slightly to the north at a point where the steepest-descent path turns sharply east. This path, however, would rejoin a steepest descent tributary that would still direct the flow towards the intersection of Pahoa Village Road and Highway 130, in the vicinity of the Pahoa Marketplace.

Smoke conditions were moderate Thursday with a light trade wind blowing the smoke in a south/southeast direction. Officials said smoke conditions may increase in some areas and residents who may be sensitive or have respiratory problems are advised to take precautions and to remain indoors.

The state Health Department has installed three temporary air quality monitors to measure levels and the data they're collecting is available online: http://health.hawaii.gov/cab/hawaii-ambient-air-quality-data. Two monitors are currently located in Pahoa and another is in Leilani Estates, but officials say they can be relocated as the lava flow moves or additional breakouts occur.

The University of Hawaii has also developed a model to forecast the lava flow smoke in Puna, which is also available online: http://weather.hawaii.edu/vmap/smoke/ Health officials recommend residents in smoke affected areas avoid outdoor activities -- and anyone with respiratory illness or heart disease -- along with older adults and children are urged to avoid smoke exposure.

Officials said as the flow activity continues to show signs of advancement, businesses in the Pahoa Marketplace will be taking necessary steps to prepare for a possible evacuation. They asked drivers to be prepared for increased traffic and large vehicles in the area and proceed with caution.

Officials said Aloha Petroleum will take the appropriate steps to remove fuel from the underground storage tanks and remove equipment from the station, a process that will be complete by Friday. However, Oliveira said the company will hold off on adding water and firefighting foam to the underground tanks until officials are absolutely certain it is headed that direction. He said the delay will help expedite a return to services if the direction of the lava flow shifts.

Public access for lava viewing at the old Pahoa Transfer station began Wednesday and officials said an estimated 1,000 people passed through for an up close look at the stalled pahoehoe flow. Ige also visited the transfer station, leaving an offering on one of the hardened lava flows in the parking lot.

The viewing station will operate daily from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., except for Christmas and New Years Day. Officials say cars will be allowed to park along the Hilo side of Apa'a Street and tour buses have permission to drop off passengers at the station. Access will be limited to safe walking areas around the lava and not on top of the pahoehoe flow itself. Officials say if resources need to be redirected to address safety or traffic concerns with the current flow, they may need to reassess and shut down. Residents are asking all visitors to please respect private property and also be aware of the children who walk to and from school.

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, go to www.hawaiicounty.gov/active-alerts/ For more information, contact Hawai'i County Civil Defense at (808) 935-0031.

Here's the latest list of closures/openings confirmed as of 3 p.m. Thursday:

Closing Thursday:

  • Eyeland EyeDoc
  • Credit Union Hawaii at 5 p.m.
  • Malama Market at 6 p.m.
  • Ace Hardware at 6 p.m.
Closing Saturday:

Long's Drugs Pahoa will close at 1 p.m.

Staying open for now:

  • Puna Community Health Center (Urgent Care)
  • Pahoa Fresh Fish
  • Jungle Love
  • Aloha Coast Realty
  • Paradise Business Center
  • Supercuts
Already closed:
  • Lex Brodie's Tire
  • Subway
  • Malama Gas 'n Go
  • Clinical Laboratories of Hawaii
  • Pahoa Properties LLC
Unknown
  • No. 1 Chinese BBQ
  • Mighty Sushi
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