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Pahoa High alumni reschedule reunion as lava continues push

  • COURTESY HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
    Lava from Kilauea Volcano has moved over a parking lot and crept within a few yards of buildings at Pahoa Recycling and Transfer Station before stopping.
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PAHOA » As lava from Kilauea Volcano continued its slow push toward Pahoa Recycling and Transfer Station on Friday, a group of area school alumni were making plans to reschedule reunion festivities.

More than 300 Pahoa High School alumni had planned to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the school’s first graduating class in October, said Jason Hashi­moto, president of the Pahoa Alumni Association. All Pahoa High graduates were invited to take part in festivities honoring the class of 1944.

Hashimoto, a 1978 graduate, said the association had been planning for the event for about a year when the lava flow turned life in Pahoa upside down.

"It’s sad for us people who grew up in Pahoa. We never thought that it would come. It’s unreal," he said.

For one Pahoa graduate who was planning to attend with her husband, the lava flow triggered memories of the 1960s Kapoho eruption, which destroyed her home and had her family living in the Pahoa gym temporarily.

"The volcano was going off, and it was right in my front yard," said 74-year-old Lillian Sala­zar.

Salazar remembered how the eruption destroyed homes, caused funerals to be canceled and threatened a nearby cemetery similar to what’s happening with the Buddhist cemetery near Pahoa.

She also recalled sneaking a peek at the river of lava flowing downhill. Sala­zar said tourists were also allowed to venture close enough for a look at the flow, an idea she does not agree with as she remembers such access causing problems.

"Why bring tourists in and give us more stress?" she asked.

Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oli­veira said Friday morning that a finger of the flow that breached the Pahoa Recycling and Transfer Station’s fence earlier this week had moved over a parking lot and crept within a few yards of the buildings before stopping.

Later in the day, Hawaii County Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leit­head Todd said a breakout near the back corner of the site was approaching from the left side but had not affected any structures. "It’s still flowing in," she said.

Lava inflation was also occurring about 3 feet above the line of the fence, Leit­head Todd said.

"More will flow. Waiting to see how much flows, how long it flows and how much she destroys," she said.

County officials are documenting the features of the facility to prepare an application for funding assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

On Nov. 4 a presidential disaster declaration made public assistance available for efforts undertaken by the state, county and certain nonprofits to protect public safety during the lava flow.

All eligible applicants will be reimbursed on a cost-share basis, with federal funding expected to cover 75 percent of costs.

FEMA External Affairs Officer Kelly Hudson said the transfer station would not qualify for assistance under the current presidential declaration, which falls under "Category B" for emergency protective measures for public assistance projects.

"The applicant, whoever owns that facility, would not be eligible," Hudson said, noting the state would have to submit a request for a different category under public assistance.

Meanwhile, lava-fueled smoke conditions Friday were moderate to heavy, with a light south wind blowing north-northeast toward areas outside of Pahoa including Aina­loa, Hawaiian Paradise Park and Keaau.

Residents downwind who may be sensitive or have respiratory problems were advised to remain indoors, officials said.

The weather service is forecasting south winds for the next few days.

Since Oct. 30 the leading edge of the lava flow has remained stalled about 480 feet above Pahoa Village Road. However, breakouts are active in several spots, including near a cemetery below Apaa Street, an area above the transfer station and an area 300 yards above of Apaa Street.

The breakouts do not pose an immediate threat to residents, Civil Defense said.

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