Hawaii officials to arrange for occupants to observe lava destroy home as ‘closure’

A river of asphalt-black lava was within yards of a home in a Big Island community on Tuesday, after weeks of slow, stop-and-go movement.

HONOLULU — A river of asphalt-black lava was within yards of a home in a Big Island community on Tuesday, after weeks of slow, stop-and-go movement.

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 when necessary.

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 Defence Director Darryl Oliveira said.

The lava was about 70 yards (64 metres) from a home Monday evening, officials said. County officials have warned those with respiratory problems to stay indoors because of the smoke.

Over the weekend, the lava crossed a road in Pahoa Village, considered a main town in the island’s rural Puna district. It was getting dangerously close to Pahoa Village Road, which goes straight through downtown.

The flow advanced about 275 yards (250 metres) from Sunday morning to Monday morning, moving northeast at about 10 to 15 yards (10 to 15 metres) per hour. At other times, the lava slowed to about 2 yards (2 metres) per hour or sped up to about 20 yards (20 metres) per hour, depending on topography, said Janet Babb, a spokeswoman for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Scientists began warning the public about the lava on Aug. 22. At the time, residents were cleaning up from a tropical storm that made landfall over the Puna district, toppling trees and knocking out electricity.

No one knows if the lava flow will stop, change direction or hit homes.

In the 1990s, about 200 homes were destroyed by lava flows from Kilauea.

The last evacuations from the volcano came in 2011. One home was destroyed and others were threatened before the lava changed course.