WITHOUT MERCY: Lava covers cemetery, continues fast pace

A small, primarily Buddhist cemetery in Pahoa fell victim to advancing lava on Sunday, marking yet another sobering milestone in the ongoing June 27 flow.


A small, primarily Buddhist cemetery in Pahoa fell victim to advancing lava on Sunday, marking yet another sobering milestone in the ongoing June 27 flow.

The front remained active, according to a 3 p.m. Hawaii County Civil Defense update, moving about 350 yards since Saturday, when it first crossed Cemetery Road.

“The flow front is currently through the cemetery grounds and advancing at approximately 10 yards per hour in a northeast direction,” reads the update. “Smoke conditions were light to moderate with moderate trade winds from the northeast pushing the smoke in a south-southwest direction. Smoke conditions may increase in some areas and residents down wind that may be sensitive or have respiratory problems are advised to take necessary precautions and to remain indoors.”

Civil Defense Adminstrator Darryl Oliveira reiterated on Sunday that an evacuation notice was in effect, calling for residents immediately downslope of the flow to prepare for an evacuation as soon as Tuesday. However, Civil Defense will continue to monitor the flow rate, and if it speeds up or slows down, they are prepared to modify the evacuation notice.

On Sunday, Civil Defense workers met with residents in the two structures closest to the flow, the closest of which is about 300 yards downslope along the lava’s projected path, he said.

“The residents were there, and they indicated they had been preparing,” Oliveira said. “They told us that at night they can see the flow from the front balcony.

“Probably the most significant comment that was shared was that they have been preparing, and that, although it is not new or a surprise, it was definitely a disappointment and it was heartbreaking to hear that it was headed for them. They hoped and we hoped things wouldn’t come to this point.”

On Saturday, members of the county’s Community Emergency Response Team were able to notify residents within the first two major areas identified as being within the path of the lava, consisting of between 50 and 60 homes. The two areas are located along Pahoa Village Road, between Apa‘a Street and Post Office Road, running mauka up to the flow, and just makai of Pahoa Village Road.

“The impact (the lava flow) has, potentially, not just with the lava flow going through, but the smoke and other things, may be fairly significant based on what starts to burn as it’s going through,” Oliveira said.

Items such as abandoned cars, piles of tires and structures could add to the amount of smoke and fumes, which might necessitate wider evacuation areas, or speeding of timetables for possible evacuations.

Oliveira added that by late Sunday morning, the lava flow had traversed the Pahoa cemetery, covering over some monuments and tombstones.

“From a personal perspective, it was very saddening to see the flow cross over. At one point, we could see larger monuments protruding through the lava flow as it went through,” he said.

Members of the Pahoa area Japanese community association, known as Pahoa Kinjinkai, and other Buddhist groups gathered together several weeks ago to hold a special closing ceremony for the cemetery, which members said was at least 100 years old.

Pahoa resident Cary Tanoue, who was attending on Sunday afternoon a function at the Puna Hongwanji Mission, said that he believed he might have ancestors buried there, making the news of the lava flows passing through very troubling.

“I was thinking it was not going to hit it,” he said with a stern face and a few tears running down his cheeks. “But when we heard the news that it (the lava) had started to hit the driveway, the reality brought tears to my eyes. … The cemetery is part of our culture, it’s one thing that (Pahoa’s Japanese community) have left, and we thought it would be there forever, and once that is gone … That is a big hit to me.”

Craig Shimoda, president of the Kinjinkai, explained that Pahoa once had a much larger Japanese community which largely helped to build the town, but it has since waned as people moved away and the population aged.

“We’re upset, but we have to kind of accept it,” he said of the flow’s impact.

He added that prior to the closing ceremony and the approach of the lava, about four or five area families worked to remove the remains of loved ones. The cemetery had not been used within the last several years, he added.

“We have worked to maintain it, cut the grass, keep it up, and we have a yearly memorial service at the cemetery every July,” Shimoda said.


Meanwhile, Hawaii Electric Light Co. reported that its efforts to protect utility poles within the path of the flow appeared to be working so far. One of four test sites, which involved large retaining walls made of concrete and piles of cinder surrounding utility poles, was inundated by lava early Saturday morning as it crossed Cemetery Road. However, the protective barrier appeared to be keeping the lava’s 2,000-degree heat at bay, preventing it from burning the wooden pole and downing the electric transmission line.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune- herald.com.

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