- Pahoa, Hawaii 10/28/2014 by Audrey McAvoy, Jennifer Sinco Kelleher (AP)
After weeks of slow, stop-and-go movement, a river of asphalt-black lava crept within yards of a home in a Big Island community on Tuesday. The lava crackled and smoked as it advanced toward the two-story structure in Pahoa Village, smothering an expanse of vegetation.
Residents of the small town have had weeks to prepare for what's been described as a slow-motion disaster. Most have either already left or are prepared to go. At least 50 or 60 structures — including homes and businesses — are in the area likely to be hit.
Imelda Raras lives on Apaa Street, which was hit by the lava Sunday. She said she and her husband are ready to go to a friend's home if officials tell them they should leave.
"We are still praying," Raras said. "I hope our home will be spared."
Over the weekend, the lava crossed a road in Pahoa Village, a main town in the island's rural Puna district. On Tuesday morning, civil defense officials said it was about 510 yards from Pahoa Village Road, which goes straight through downtown.
Josiah Hunt, who has a farm in a part of Puna not immediately threatened by the lava, described the sounds, smell of burning grass and the warmth of the lava: "The popping and sizzling and all the methane bursts that are happening in the distance ... mixed with the birds chirping and the coqui frogs."
Scientists began warning the public about the lava Aug. 22. At the time, residents were cleaning up from a tropical storm that made landfall over the Puna district.
The flow's advancement has been inconsistent, ranging from about 2 to 20 yards per hour, depending on topography, said Janet Babb, a spokeswoman for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
On Tuesday, it was averaging about 5 yards per hour.
The couple living in the house closest to the flow left, but they have returned periodically to gather belongings Oliveira said. At one point they allowed civil defense workers to view the lava from their balcony.
Kilauea volcano, one of the world's most active, has been erupting continuously since 1983.
WATCHING THE FLOW
County officials are making arrangements for those living in the lava's path to be able to watch the lava destroy their homes as a means of closure.
"You can only imagine the frustration as well as ... despair they're going through," Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said.
Hunt watched last week as it crept toward Pahoa and saw a woman whose house is near its path put a ti leaf lei at the front of the flow. "It helps a person come to grips with the reality of the situation," he said. "I found it to be oddly comforting in a really strange way."
Sporadic suspensions in the lava's movement have given emergency crews time to build alternate routes to town.
Raras said they began putting their belongings in storage in September. What they aren't able to take with them, they're photographing for insurance purposes.
An elementary school projected to be in the lava's path, will close starting Wednesday. Other schools will close starting Thursday. Depending on what side of the flow students live, they'll either go to a newly built temporary facility or other area schools.
County officials have warned those with respiratory problems to stay indoors because of the smoke.
Downtown Pahoa chiropractor Roy Lozano's business isn't in the lava's projected path but he can see its glow in the evening. Even though the flow is about 2,000 feet away, he hasn't been able to smell the smoke. "We've been very lucky in the way the wind's been blowing."
THE BRIGHT SIDE?
Terri Mulroy, who runs Kumu Aina Farm with her husband, said the lava flow, while unnerving, has a cleansing quality to it because it keeps development on the lush Hawaiian island in check.
"If it wasn't for the flow, I wouldn't be able to live here," she said. "This land would have been a golf course for the rich."