Puna lava flow continues to slow, but is still heading toward Pa - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Puna lava flow continues to slow, but is still heading toward Pahoa Marketplace

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Image source: USGS Image source: USGS
Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi
Katie Dana Katie Dana
PAHOA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Hawai'i County Civil Defense officials say the Puna lava flow continues to slow, but still advanced east-northeast another 85 yards since Saturday. The active leading edge is now approximately 0.6 miles upslope of the Highway 130 and Pahoa Village Road intersection, and experts say it is still heading that direction. Hawai'i County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said none of the activity poses any immediate threat to area communities.

USGS geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory say the flow front consists of north and south branches, although only the northern branch is currently active and the southern branch remains stalled since Friday. HVO ground crews walked the area Saturday and say the active flow front widened to about 110 yards and was moving sluggishly through rough, hazardous terrain. USGS says if the flow continues along its current path of steepest descent it will head toward the Pahoa Marketplace. Experts are not offering a projected arrival forecast because the flow's advancement rate has decreased the last several days and has not maintained a consistent pace.

The Railroad Avenue emergency bypass route opened Saturday in preparation for the lava flow's likely crossing of Highway 130, which officials say remains open and there is no anticipated closure at this time. Director Oliveira says Railroad Avenue has been opened 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 Maku?u Drive. According to Hawai?i 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.

Smoke conditions in the immediate area Sunday were moderate 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, closed Saturday. 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 was completed 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 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.

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