Into thin air: Lava flows claim Hawaii's largest lake in a matter of hours

Updated: Jun. 4, 2018 at 7:20 PM HST
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Huge plumes of laze soar into the air above Kapoho as lava hits the sea. (Image: Mick...
Huge plumes of laze soar into the air above Kapoho as lava hits the sea. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Vision Video)

KAPOHO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since eruptions began in early May on the Big Island, lava has covered nearly 8 square miles in lower Puna, taking out more than 150 homes and cutting access to neighborhoods.

And over the weekend, Hawaii Island lost an entire lake.

Green Lake, also known as Ka Wai a Pele, effectively vanished on Saturday after lava flows caused all of the 400-year-old lake's water to evaporate. Around 10 a.m., officials said that lava began entering the water basin, causing a massive tower of steam to rise from the area.

Later that afternoon, when authorities were able to evaluate the area, pure lava sat where Hawaii's largest freshwater natural resource once stood. For many residents, the news that the once-popular swimming spot had completely vanished seemed surreal.

"I couldn't believe it," said Drew Kapp, a geography instructor at Hawaii Community College. "I've never even heard of anything like that happening before."

According to Kapp, some people believe that the basin was one of the first places Madame Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, came to visit. Legend has it that she bathed there when she first visited Hawaii.

"It's really a culturally significant place," Kapp said. "A lot of people think that she may be returning to the place where she first came."

Green Lake isn't the only natural resource claimed by lava in recent days.

On Sunday night, lava hit the ocean off Kapoho. Residents fear Kapoho Tide Pools and a fish pond are gone.

"It's wiping out the island as it is," said Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator. He added, of lava covering parts of Kapoho, "That's a pretty precious part of the island."

Kapp says that although Green Lake will be missed, he believes that residents have come to accept and even respect the loss.

The lake, likely named for the color of its water, reached depths of 200 feet.

"It makes sense, if this is where Pele first visited to bathe, maybe she just decided to return," Kapp said.

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