PAHOA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thursday night's community update meeting in Pahoa was the seventh time Hawai'i County Civil Defense officials and USGS geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory hosted a townhall on the Puna lava flow, but it was the first time members of Hawai'i's Congressional Team attended.
U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard and U.S. Senator Brian Schatz addressed a packed crowd of more 500 anxious and concerned residents. They say their top priorities are ensuring uninterrupted postal service and the critical infrastructure needs of clearing Chain of Craters road -- which by all accounts will eventually become the only way in and out of the lower Puna district.
"We understand that park service has one kuleana, and one kuleana only, and that's to take care of the park and we totally respect that. But this is an unusual situation and there's really only one way out, and it's connecting to the Volcano's National Park. It's the way to provide emergency access for the people of Puna and so we've gotta find a way to make sure it works," Sen. Schatz said.
"The action is so critical now that this is not a situation where we have a plethora of options. Literally this is about people being able to get to and from school, get to and from work -- and even more than that making sure that we have emergency access available to service this community of over 8200 people. This is not a small thing," said Rep. Gabbard.
Chain of Craters Road is covered by about eight miles of lava from previous flows. The roadway runs through county, state and federal property. The state has turned over jurisdiction of their portion of the road to the county, but officials are still working with National Park Service to ensure a two-lane emergency route will connect the thousands of people who will be displaced when the Puna lava flow cuts through Highway 130.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park officials have said repeatedly that they're committed to providing safe access for Puna's resident. The park currently has clearance to allow for an 18 foot road, but the county is hoping for a 28 foot wide evacuation route that can accommodate two cars. Officials say this isn't something they want but crucially need.
Copyright 2014 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.