Lava threat downgraded

  • 1710996_web1_3-24-15-hvo-photo201532515352645.jpg

With the threat level from Kilauea volcano downgraded Wednesday, Hawaii County will consider scaling back its lava flow updates and overflights that have been a nearly daily occurrence for the past six months, said Civil Defense chief Darryl Oliveira.

ADVERTISING


With the threat level from Kilauea volcano downgraded Wednesday, Hawaii County will consider scaling back its lava flow updates and overflights that have been a nearly daily occurrence for the past six months, said Civil Defense chief Darryl Oliveira.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory changed the volcano alert level from a warning to a watch as the June 27 lava flow from the Pu‘u ‘O‘o vent remains inactive near Pahoa.

The warning was initiated in early September as the flow was headed toward the town, only to stop several times short of major roads, a commercial center and many homes.

The flow, which destroyed one house, covered a cemetery and part of an orchard, remains active at least 8 miles upslope of town and could threaten communities once again.

But the downgrade was nonetheless a welcomed acknowledgment that residents, for the time being, largely have been spared one of nature’s most destructive forces.

Still, officials remained cautious about what this means for the long term.

“It’s definitely a more favorable outlook at this point,” Oliveira said.

“I guess what’s on the back of all of our minds is the eruption is not looking like it’s stopping. I personally don’t want to convey the message to the community that it’s over by any chance.”

He said he plans to speak with Mayor Billy Kenoi about reducing the county’s overflights, which cost about $400 a day, and its lava updates.

Discussions also will need to take place about whether to extend the county’s disaster proclamation, which expires Tuesday. The state’s emergency declaration is set to remain in effect until the end of the year.

Oliveira said HVO plans to continue its overflights, which recently have occurred once a week, and the county will remain in touch with helicopter operators who fly over the flow.

Altitude limits on aircraft flying over the flow were lifted earlier this month.

Schools that relocated students plan to keep their current arrangements for the rest of the school year, Oliveira said.

A Hawaii Property Insurance Association spokesman told the Tribune-Herald on Wednesday before HVO announced the downgrade that its moratorium on new policies in lower Puna will remain in effect until the state Legislature requires that to change.

Lawmakers are considering bills to lift the moratorium.

Lava activity was limited Wednesday to four breakouts within 4 miles of the vent. HVO geologists said the future path of the flow remains uncertain.

“Based on the rate and trajectory of these active flows, we anticipate that it will be at least months before lava could reach within 1 mile or one week of homes or infrastructure,” HVO said in a statement.

Reoccupation of the lava tube below the breakouts remains unlikely since it continues to cool, said Tina Neal, HVO’s lead scientist. If that did happen, lava could take weeks rather than months to again threaten populated areas.

“We’re leaving it out there as a possibility,” she said. “With each passing day that it doesn’t happen, it’s less and less likely.”

What communities the lava flow might threaten again likely will depend on which breakout becomes dominate, geologists said.

Potential paths could take lava toward Hawaiian Acres and Ainaloa subdivisions or back toward the Pahoa area.

What caused the tube, which had fed lava to within a half-mile of the Pahoa Marketplace, to be cutoff from its supply remained unclear, geologists said.

There might not be a blockage based on where the breakouts are occurring, said Jim Kauahikaua, HVO scientist.

ADVERTISING


“We’re still trying to think of other reasons why it was abandoned so abruptly on March 12,” he said.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.