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County to open emergency road in Pahoa as lava nears

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    The leading tip of active lava on the June 27th flow continues downslope, through thick vegetation, towards the northeast Thursday.
    A thermal image taken Thursday shows a Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist collecting an active lava sample.
    A Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist collects an active lava sample. The lava is quenched in the bucket of water.
    Scattered breakouts were active about 2 miles northeast of Puu Oo vent Thursday.
    In this thermal image taken Thursday, white and yellow pixels show active surface lava, which is focused along the leading edge of the flow.

PAHOA >> One of three alternative emergency-access routes in and out of the Pahoa area will open Saturday as the June 27 lava flow continues to threaten the area’s main highway. 

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi announced during a community meeting Thursday night at the Pahoa High School cafeteria that Railroad Avenue will open to traffic at noon on Saturday. A ceremony prior to the road opening will commence around 10 a.m. 

The decision to open the road prior to lava crossing Highway 130, the area’s main throughway, was made to give the community time to adjust to the new road, county officials said. 

The two-lane road is the closest of the emergency access routes to Pahoa. County and state crews started working on the road months ago along with a one-lane coastal road by the name of Old Government road and Beach Road, and the Chain of Craters Road, which previously was overrun with lava.

The speed limit on Railroad Avenue will be limited to 20 mph. It is a two-lane compacted gravel route suitable for sedans, SUVs, small trucks, vans, buses, and delivery trucks, according to county officials. 

The lava continued to flow at a slower pace toward the Pahoa Marketplace and the intersection of Highway 130 and Pahoa Village Road Friday.

An overflight Friday morning showed the flow advanced about 130 yards since Thursday morning and is about .8 miles from the intersection of Highway 130 and Pahoa Village Road, officials said.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists said the flow split into two branches, but that one branch appears to have stalled.

The other lava flow, north of the stalled branch, would take it to the Pahoa Marketplace if it continues to follow the steepest descent path.

Civil Defense officials say the lava is not an immediate threat to residents.

In addition to the active flow front, other breakouts about 1.6 miles from Pu’u O’o remain active. Several other breakouts upslope of the flow front, are also active advancing up to 220 yards on Thursday.

Lava is moving at a slower pace than last week, when the flow front advanced at a rate of more than 300 yards a day.

Since the lava breakout emerged from the main flow near an underground crack system last month, the lava’s advancement rate has varied from about 110 yards a day to more than 490 yards a day.

The molten rock was 1,200 to 1,300 yards away from the edge of Pahoa Marketplace on Thursday and had advanced about 165 yards from the previous day, said Darryl Oliveira, Hawaii County civil defense administrator.

"We’re just watching the activity on the flow going forward and trying to remain optimistic that we might see a slow down or pause or stall," Oliveira said.

Lava from Kilauea Volcano is crossing flatter terrain, which may have partly caused the slackening.

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