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Tests in preparation for possible highway damage from lava

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    Construction crews, working on opposite ends of Chain of Craters Road, met in the middle Wednesday.
    A small finger of lava has advanced into the vegetation just east of Kaohe Homesteads, on the south side of the flow on Wednesday.
    A closer view Wednesday shows a breakout of lava about 1.5 miles above Apaa Street that is advancing to the north.
    Red glow is from both burning vegetation and active p?hoehoe lobes at a breakout 1.5 miles above Apaa Street on Wednesday. Gray streaks are accumulations of ash where vegetation has burned on the flow surface.
    Looking northeast, along the flow path, toward P?hoa, the largest smoke plume at middle left of the photo is from a lobe of pahoehoe lava, about 1.5 miles above Apaa Street, that was advancing to the north on Wednesday.
    A comparison of a normal photograph with a thermal image of the flow front. The warm (but not hot) temperatures (red and orange) around the leading tip of the flow indicate that no surface flows are active in this area. Several small breakouts are active a short distance upslope, near the cemetery, and are visible by their higher temperatures (yellow, white). Upslope of Cemetery Rd./Apa?a St., scattered breakouts remain active.
    The tip of the lava flow remains stalled about 170 yards from P?hoa Village Road, which crosses the photo at very bottom right. Smoke plumes are visible above town, caused by burning vegetation at the site of lava breakouts on Wednesday.
    Construction crews, working on opposite ends of Chain of Craters Road, met in the middle Wednesday.

PAHOA, Hawaii >> The state Friday will begin testing surface materials on lava-covered Apaa Street to evaluate possible solutions for rebuilding Puna’s main highway if the flow from Kilauea Volcano continues along its current course.

Workers will be applying aggregate material at different depths and thicknesses of the flow on Apaa Street, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oli-veira said. They’ll be looking into how heat from the flow transfers to the new materials and measure temperatures below the surface. The state will be using high-tech equipment that identifies anomalies in the flow, along with a ground-penetrating radar system that looks below the surface.

The tests are being conducted with the idea of re-establishing Highway 130 in mind, Oli-veira said. “Re-establishment of the highway would be a definite benefit to return the community to some form of normalcy,” he said.

Over the past six days, the front of the lava flow has been stalled about 170 yards from Pahoa Village Road. “It allows us some time to regroup,” Oli-veira said.

But on Thursday there was a breakout area near the Buddhist cemetery, with lava inflating up to 2 meters high in some areas, said Mike Poland, geophysicist with Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Scientists are “still continuing to see some inflation and marginal growth back away from the front at about 500 meters,” he said.

Matt Patrick, research geologist for the observatory, said the inflation indicates that lava is stored within the flow upslope from the Puu Oo crater.

“There’s still a supply of lava through the tube. The question is, How sustained is that going to be? Definitely, it is much smaller than it was a week ago,” Patrick said. He added that there’s still heat beneath the surface for most of the length.  

“It’s slow. The amount of expansion over the last few days has been pretty minor, less than 50 meters a day,” Patrick said. Right now the main area of concern is situated about 2.5 kilometers upslope from the tip of the flow, where there have been persistent breakouts for weeks. “That’s something we’re keeping an eye on,” he said.

 Construction work is now wrapped up on two emergency road projects — Railroad Avenue and Government Road — initiated when officials said the so-called June 27 lava flow could cross Highway 130, which serves as an artery for area motorists to the rest of Hawaii island.  

Work on an expanded route over an old lava bed in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is expected to be completed in December.

Cindy Orlando, the park’s superintendent, said Thursday that when Chain of Craters Road opens, only area residents, vendors and invited guests will be allowed to use it. The road’s operational and management costs are estimated at $1.7 million annually, she said. The park has spent $800,000 so far.

Orlando said the park will request funding from the federal government to recover the costs.

Since it opened in 1965, 19-mile long Chain of Craters Road has been blocked by lava for 37 years of its 49-year existence, according to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. About 8 miles of the coastal section of Chain of Craters Road is covered by lava, park officials said.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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