PAHOA >> On a day when new Hawaii island communities lost a major highway, electricity and cell service because of expanding lava flows, Mayor Harry Kim told a gathering that included many of those affected that they will get through this ordeal.
“What is happening in Lower Puna today is something no one alive in the world today has ever experienced, because we’re talking about things (past area lava flows) that occurred in the 1700s and 1800s,” he said. “Nature is taking its course, and this is our job: Our job is to recognize that, stay out of harm’s way, and help each other through this adjustment.”
The crowd of more than 350 people at Pahoa High School responded with applause, as well as appreciation for what an enormous arrangement of scientists, public safety officers, utility operators and government leaders are doing to help.
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“It is helpful to know they are covering all these different aspects,” said Kapoho resident Trayce Pjirrou. “They sound pretty on top of it.”
As part of the meeting, scientists and others working on disaster mitigation were available afterward to answer questions.
Power, internet outages
This is about the fifth community meeting since lava broke out in the Leilani Estates subdivision May 3 not far from the school. Tuesday’s meeting, however, happened on a day that lava emanating from one fissure in the subdivision crossed Highway 132 and took out major utility corridor infrastructure providing electricity as well as mobile phone and internet service to communities farther east around Kapoho.
Jay Ignacio, president of Hawaii Electric Light Co., told the crowd that the company was working to put in place a generator that would restore power to what he said after the meeting were more than 100 but fewer than 500 affected customers. That will require some site work and figuring out where to put the generator so lava does not wipe out the connection.
Ignacio did not project how long it would take to restore power.
Lava from fissure 8, which caused door-to-door warnings in Leilani on Sunday and Monday evenings, was spouting a fountain about 200 feet high Tuesday.
Pele’s hair falls
Because of the wind direction, one product of fountaining, Pele’s hair, was carried into Pahoa.
Pele’s hair is fine strands of volcanic glass fibers that are so abrasive that they can scratch car windshields if cleared away with wipers. The fibers can lodge in skin and injure eyes and lungs if broken or ingested.
Lava mainly from fissure 8 destroyed at least two homes since Monday evening, but maybe more. To date, 71 homes in Leilani have been lost to lava.
Lava from fissure 8 inside Leilani Estates also buried two Puna Geothermal Venture wells between Sunday evening and Monday morning.
Hawaii County officials said Tuesday that PGV has plugged all its geothermal energy production wells and flushed its network of pipes to remove any dangerous residue.
The partly buried plant that had produced 25 percent of Hawaii island’s electricity remains safe, county and state officials said. Some people feared there could have been an uncontrolled release of deadly hydrogen sulfide gas if lava breached the well shafts that tap steam and hot water several thousand feet down.
Creating a new road
As a result of Highway 132, which runs above the plant, being cut off, the county restricted use of the curvy one-lane Beach Road for local use serving Lower Puna.
Another major road, Highway 130, has suffered severe cracking. This prompted an effort recently to re-establish a thoroughfare using Chain of Craters Road, which was partially buried by lava years ago. If Highway 130 is lost, then residents south of Leilani Estates around Kalapana would be trapped.
Donald Smith, a state Department of Transportation district engineer, told the crowd that two giant bulldozers and a compacting machine have been brought in to grade a new road through the old lava. He said an agreement is expected to be done this morning with the National Park Service to allow use of the road in their jurisdiction and then start construction this afternoon. It would take four days to finish, he estimated.
To that the audience gave more applause. And Kim told them they will get through the troubles together.
“We are doing the best we can,” the mayor said. “I ask all of us to join hands as we go through this. Just like the people of Kalapana, Kapoho, we will be all right.”