Puna lava flow slows, but continues on path to Highway 130 as em - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Puna lava flow slows, but continues on path to Highway 130 as emergency bypass route is set to open

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Photo of lava flow heading toward Highway 130 (Image source: USGS) Photo of lava flow heading toward Highway 130 (Image source: USGS)
PAHOA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii County Civil Defense officials say the Puna lava flow is narrowing and continues to slow, but still advanced east-northeast another 160 yards since Friday. They say new measurements indicate the active leading edge is now approximately 0.7 miles upslope of the Highway 130 and Pahoa Village Road intersection. 

Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said none of the activity poses any immediate threat to area communities -- however, he says the Railroad Avenue emergency bypass route will open at noon on Saturday, December 20 in preparation for the lava flow's likely crossing. Oliveira says they want to give the community a chance to familiarize themselves with conditions and the amount of time it will take them to travel to their destinations on the two-lane crushed-gravel roadway. The 10.1 miles connects Kapoho to Hawaiian Paradise Park at Makuu Drive. According to Hawaii County's website, the intention is for the evacuation route will be open to sedans, SUVs, small trucks, vans, buses and delivery trucks at 20 mph.

USGS geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said Thursday the flow front 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. They say the southern branch of the flow stalled about 0.6 miles away from the shopping center, but the active north branch is 0.8 miles away from the Highway 130 and Pahoa Village Road intersection. 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.

USGS says 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. 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 in the immediate area Friday were moderate to heavy 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. The area's largest supermarket, Malama Market, along with one of three gas stations that serve the community are already closed. Long's Drugs, the only pharmacy in Pahoa, announced their location would be closing Saturday at 1 p.m.

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. 

Governor David Ige visited the site Thursday, 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 Apaa 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.

Hawaii 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 Hawaii 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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