As lava dan­ger sub­sides, school plans to re­open

Flows from Hawaii’s Ki­lauea vol­cano that threat­ened a town have be­come in­ac­tive.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Maria L. La Ganga maria.la­ganga@la­times.com Twit­ter: @mar­i­ala­ganga

Hawaii state ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials closed Keonepoko El­e­men­tary School on the Big Is­land in Oc­to­ber as lava threat­ened the small town of Pa­hoa.

Stu­dents were re­lo­cated to safer schools, but not be­fore they wrote dozens of let­ters be­seech­ing Madam Pele to spare their beloved cam­pus. They hung the notes from the school’s chain­link fence with red rib­bon, the vol­cano god­dess’ fa­vorite color.

Their prayers seem to have been an­swered.

Nearly two weeks ago, the Hawai­ian Vol­cano Ob­ser­va­tory down­graded the lava alert level from “warn­ing” to “watch.” And on Mon­day, the state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion an­nounced that Keonepoko El­e­men­tary will re­open in the com­ing school year be­cause the threat from Ki­lauea had sub­sided.

“Many fam­i­lies were af­fected by our con­tin­gency plans to safe­guard ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, and we ap­pre­ci­ate their co­op­er­a­tion and un­der­stand­ing through all of it,” state Supt. Kathryn Matayoshi said in a writ­ten state­ment posted on the depart­ment’s web­site.

“We now have a ton of de­tails to work out be­fore mak­ing any of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment on dates or as­sign­ments, how­ever it is im­por­tant to let fam­i­lies and staff know where we stand,” Matayoshi said. “The de­ci­sion to re­open Keonepoko El­e­men­tary extends be­yond just the fa­cil­ity. We want to be very thought­ful about our ap­proach.”

Ki­lauea’s most re­cent erup­tion has been bub­bling non­stop for more than 30 years, wip­ing out the small town of Kala­pana in the early 1990s, destroying more than 200 struc­tures, and forc­ing parish­ioners to roll Star of the Sea Painted Church out of dan­ger.

Then, it largely calmed down. Un­til last sum­mer. The vol­cano’s lat­est out­break — called the June 27 lava flow — threat­ened to cleave Pa­hoa in two, incin­er­ate build­ings and strand half the town. In ad­di­tion to the el­e­men­tary school, stores closed and many res­i­dents moved to safer ground in prepa­ra­tion.

But Pele is fickle. Although Ki­lauea con­tin­ues to erupt, the dan­ger has sub­sided, for now.

“In re­cent weeks, the Pu’u ’O’o lava flows near­est to the town of Pa­hoa be­came in­ac­tive,” the vol­cano ob­ser­va­tory an­nounced March 25. “Be­cause the im­me­di­ate threat from the June 27th lava flow has been re­duced, we are re­duc­ing the alert level.”

“We an­tic­i­pate that it will be at least months be­fore lava could reach to within one mile or one week of homes or in­fra­struc­ture.”

Maria L. La Ganga Los An­ge­les Times

A PRAYER CARD de­pict­ing the vol­cano god­dess Madam Pele hangs from the fence sur­round­ing Keonepoko El­e­men­tary School in Pa­hoa, Hawaii.

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