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Stalled lava eases Election Day fears for disaster-weary Puna

  • COURTESY ENA MEDIA & BLUE HAWAIIAN HELICOPTERS
    The June 27 lava flow from Kilauea was seen approaching Pahoa on Monday in this aerial view.
  • USGS / HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
    A hole is left behind by a large tree that was surrounded by lava, burned through at its base, and collapsed onto the solidified flow surface a short time before this photo was taken on Friday. The end of the tree trunk is glowing, and flames from burning wood are emanating from the hole. This represents an under appreciated hazard of the lava flow field. Large trees that were surrounded by lava can fall long after the leading edge of the flow has passed by
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PAHOA, Hawaii >> The leading edge of the lava flow from Kilauea Volcano remained stalled Monday, easing any fears that the molten rock would further disrupt Election Day for disaster-weary Puna.

But scientists at the Volcano Observatory said active breakouts of lava were present just above the stalled front.

As of 5 p.m. Monday a small finger of lava was advancing down along the north edge of the private parcel that the flow entered last week. It was about 175 yards behind the stalled front and moving parallel to it at about 11 yards per hour, scientists said.

So Pahoa is by no means out of the woods, although scientists cannot predict when the flow might resume its destructive march — or be overtaken by a second finger.

Unlike Tropical Storm Iselle, which smacked the district with little warning in August, the June 27 lava flow has given election officials plenty of time to plan.

Pat Nakamoto, elections program administrator for Hawaii County, said election officials began preparing in October for the possibility that lava might pose a problem on Nov. 4.

“There was a possibility that the lava flow would cross over the highway and there wouldn’t be access and that precinct would have been split by the lava flow,” she said.

Since the lava moved into Pahoa more than a week ago, it’s crossed Apaa Street, overrun a Buddhist cemetery and destroyed two structures: a 10-by-15-foot potting utility shed on a farm lot near Apaa Street on Oct. 28; and another farm structure on Friday made out of four wooden posts and a corrugated iron roof designed to give shelter to cattle near Cemetery Road.

However, the flow front remained stalled Monday.

While the lava was heading toward the area’s main highway at a slow place, the county was taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach since a whirlwind of confusion surfaced following the August primary during Tropical Storm Iselle.

Damage from the storm made roads impassable and prevented some residents from getting to polling places. Two precincts in the area were closed.

While there was a makeup vote held for both precincts, the situation sparked an attempt by the American Civil Liberties Union to reopen the primary election to people who were unable to vote. That complaint was dismissed by the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Chief Election Officer Scott Nago said Monday that all polls, including the four in the Pahoa area, will be open on Election Day.

Voters assigned to Pahoa Community Center will still have the option to vote at Hawaiian Paradise Park Community Center.

Department of Education facilities that were closed because of the lava flow will still serve as polling places on Election Day. These schools include Keonepoko Elementary School and Pahoa High and Intermediate School.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration Monday in response to the June 27 lava flow, a move that authorizes federal reimbursement of state and county relief efforts.

Money will go toward certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures taken as a result of the Puu Oo volcanic eruption and lava flow in Hawaii County.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures in the county.   

Eligible projects under the declaration can receive 75 percent federal reimbursement with a 25 percent match from the state or Hawaii County.

The county has spent more than $6 million on emergency expenditures related to the lava flow, according to Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s request for federal assistance.

An additional $16 million was estimated to be needed in response to the ongoing disaster, which continues to threaten Pahoa homes.

Most of the funds so far have been spent on building alternate routes along Railroad Avenue, Government Beach Road and Chain of Craters Road should lava cross Highway 130 and reach the sea.

State efforts that could be reimbursed include measures to accommodate about 900 schoolchildren who have to take classes elsewhere because of the flow, and to support additional air quality monitoring.

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