Lava marches toward ocean
County: No plan to rebuild emergency road if it is covered by flow
The lava flow from Kilauea’s Pu‘u ‘O‘o vent doesn’t appear to be wasting much time getting to the ocean.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the flow had traveled about halfway across the coastal plain with about a mile of terrain separating it from the island’s edge, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
“The flow front is still advancing at a pretty good clip,” said HVO geologist Matt Patrick, adding it had traveled about 700 meters in the past day.
The flow front is staying relatively narrow as it borders higher terrain created by earlier flows, helping to hasten its advance.
Patrick said lava could reach the ocean in a “matter of days” if it keeps this pace. But, he cautioned, “There’s always the possibility it could stall and maybe widen, and that would slow it down.”
Before it reaches the ocean, the flow would meet the emergency route connecting Kalapana and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The route, mainly restricted to pedestrian and bicycle access, is currently being used as part of Hawaii County’s lava viewing area.
Patrick said the flow front was just less than a mile
away from the gravel road, which was built in 2014 over portions of the former Kalapana-Chain of Craters Road that was covered by earlier Pu‘u ‘O‘o flows.
County Public Works spokesman Barett Otani said the route cost $5 million to build over 8 miles, with 80 percent of the cost covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Public Works Director Warren Lee said there are no plans to rebuild the road again if lava crosses it.
The route was created in case a separate lava flow that threatened Pahoa in 2014 crossed Highway 130, the lifeline for thousands of residents in the area. But, luckily, that flow stalled twice short of the highway before resetting itself near the vent.
The 2014 flow officially came to an end in early June as the current flow, known as “61g,” diverted its supply.
The county is providing security at its viewing area, which starts near the Kalapana Gardens subdivision.
Civil Defense spokeswoman Kanani Aton said guards estimated more than 3,000 people used the viewing area from 3-9 p.m. Sunday, the busiest day yet.
There have been a few reports of twisted ankles from hikers but no serious injuries, she said.
Aton said Sunday was expected to be the peak for turnout.
“At this point, it seems like it is adequate,” she said, referring to the parking area.
Aton said passes have been provided to nearby residents to ensure residential access is maintained. Otherwise, vehicle access is prohibited.
“I think at this point, we’re steady and we’re moving along,” she said. “… We just really care about the people of Kalapana, and we want to make sure they can get through and with as little impact as possible.”
The lava flow reached the base of Pulama pali a week ago.
Patrick said open ‘a‘a channels could still be seen on the hillside Tuesday, but some have already started to crust over as the tube system is extended. The flow returns to pahoehoe lava after reaching the base of the pali.
He said that’s because of the change in the slope.
“On the steep section, it moves pretty quick,” Patrick said. “It gets disrupted and stressed and turns into ‘a‘a.”
“In many ways, this is still within range of typical flow activity from Pu‘u ‘O‘o,” he added.
Channelized lava flows from the top of the pali to the base of the lava field Friday evening in Kalapana.
Lava viewers stop Friday evening at the gate of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the county side of the emergency route built over the former KalapanaChain of Craters Road.