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Chain of Craters Road to be restored; lava slows

  • USGS / HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
    The lava flow front reached the forest boundary and more open ground on Friday.
  • USGS / HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
    This thermal image and photo of the flow shows that surface breakouts were focused on three areas near the flow front: 1) the flow front itself
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State, Hawaii County and National Park Service officials have agreed to work together to restore the Chain of Craters Road to use as an alternative route if lava from Kilauea volcano cuts off access to Pahoa and lower Puna, it was announced Monday.

The development comes as the so-called June 27 lava flow slowed considerably since Saturday, but remains within 1.5 miles of the outskirts of Pahoa.

On Monday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Monday added to his Sept. 5 emergency proclamation, extending the disaster emergency relief period through Dec. 1.

The supplemental proclamation also allows for the restoration of Chain of Craters Road, which previously was overrun with lava and would be rebuilt as one of three emergency routes out of lower Puna if lava should overrun Highway 130.

“Even though the lava flow appears to have slowed to a halt for the time being, the state and Hawaii County are prepared and moving forward together with contingency plans in the event the lava does progress farther,” Abercrombie said.

The National Park Service also said Monday it would work with state and county officials on the emergency Chain of Craters route.

Before the flow began to slow, volcano scientists on Friday estimated that lava could reach Highway 130 in 21 days, increasing the urgency for work to reopen the 19-mile Chain of Craters Road that runs from the summit of Kilauea to sea level.

Since it opened in 1965, Chain of Craters Road has been blocked by lava for 37 of its 49-year existence, according to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. About eight miles of the coastal section of Chain of Craters Road is covered by lava, park officials said.

As reported Saturday in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, state, county and park officials see a restored Chain of Craters Road as a third alternative for about 8,500 lower Puna residents if lava overruns Highway 130. The county is already working on two other emergency road projects — Railroad Avenue and Government Road — to connect lower Puna with Hilo to the north, if needed. The two-lane Railroad Avenue project is expected to be ready later this week, while the one-lane Government Road work is slated to be complete by Oct. 1.

Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory officials said Monday that the lava flowing toward Pahoa has paused in its slow, downhill advancement toward the town, coming to a stop on Monday.

An overflight of the area Monday morning showed “very little activity” and the flow had not advanced since the last overflight Sunday, according to a Hawaii County Civil Defense update.

A small breakout flow was seen upslope from the leading edge of the north flank, moving in a northeast direction into a forested area.

The lava flow has “slowed considerably” since Thursday. The front moved only 75 yards since Saturday and was about 100 yards wide.

Scientists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory noted that the slowing lava flow may be due to “a reduction in lava supply related to ongoing summit deflation — if so, the flow advance rate could rise again in the coming days as the summit resumes inflation.”

The front of the flow moved out of the forest into vacant fields and started a fire Saturday above Apaa Road mauka of Highway 130.

The fire was contained, and no properties or structures were threatened, Civil Defense said.

The flow is about 1.4 miles upslope from Apaa Street on the outskirts of Pahoa and has advanced 10.2 miles from its source at Puu Oo crater since the current episode began on June 27.

This has been the slowest advance rate since scientists began warning the public of the approaching lava from Kilauea volcano about a month ago.

Officials aren’t attributing any significance to the lack of activity because it is common for lava to stop and start or move in unexpected directions, county spokesman Kevin Dayton said.

“When you see this from the air, it has this look of inevitability to it,” Dayton said of the lava’s slow creep toward Pahoa, possibly to hit businesses and homes and cover a major highway that’s a lifeline for residents in the isolated Puna district.

Work is expected to be completed by Wednesday to turn two defunct, unpaved roads into alternate routes if lava crosses Highway 130, Dayton said.

The road work, estimated to cost as much as $2 million, is progressing as scheduled, even though a lock was broken and 100 gallons of diesel fuel was taken last week from a private bulldozer contracted by the county.

It’s been estimated the lava could reach roads in a matter of weeks, with the exact number of days fluctuating with changes in the lava’s path and progression.

Russell Bellman, whose family owns Pahoa Village Center, said they are making preparations but for now it’s just mostly a waiting game. The center has 10 tenants, including medical offices, a video store and a restaurant.

“If it did go south … we’re separated from customers and that’s bad,” he said. “If it goes right through us, it gets burned down. … If it goes north of us, we get cut off from the rest of the island.

“You know it’s coming and it’s utterly destructive and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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