Lava from fissure 8 severs Highway 132, knocks out power, further isolates lower Puna

  • U.S. Geological Survey photo

    Fissure 8, which reactivated Monday afternoon and continued erupting Tuesday, produced lava fountains that reached heights of 200 feet and fed a lava flow that advanced to the northeast in lower Puna.

Lava crossed Highway 132 on Tuesday afternoon, isolating Puna Geothermal Venture and cutting off the last major road serving Kapoho and Vacationland.

A fast-moving flow from fissure No. 8, which was highly active Monday and Tuesday, crossed Highway 132 between Pohoiki Road and the PGV access road.

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Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said the intrusion onto Highway 132 — which already was closed to nonlocal traffic — isolated PGV from all official roadways, although he said there is still a “four-wheel-drive” trail that can provide emergency access to the facility.

Residents of Kapoho and Vacationland were cut off Tuesday from the rest of the island, save for a single road along the coast. Lava flows crossed Highway 137 south of the “Four Corners” intersection more than a week ago, and with Highway 132 impassable, the only way to leave the area is to take Government Beach Road north out of Kapoho to Hawaiian Beaches.

“Residents’ commutes are going to get longer,” Magno said.

The loss of Highway 132 also caused a power outage in Kapoho and Vacationland, areas along Highway 132, Leilani Estates from Moku to Mohala streets and what remains of Lanipuna Gardens. Magno said the outage likely will be an “extended” one.

Hawaii Electric Light Co. announced Tuesday that plans are being developed to restore power to the affected areas, but no decision can be made until the area is stable.

U.S. Geological Survey volcanologist Wendy Stovall said the speed of the fissure 8 lava flow — which at one point traveled 500 yards in one hour — was caused by the “pond” of lava formed around the fountaining fissure.

The pond, Stovall said, is being continually fed new lava, which keeps the rest of the lava hot and more fluid. After the wall of the pond collapsed, lava flowed out much more quickly than previous flows.

Tom Travis, director of Hawaii Emergency Management, said lava was encroaching onto another well pad at PGV on Tuesday afternoon. However, all wells at the facility have been plugged, which he said should prevent lava from entering the wells and releasing toxic gases.

Lava covered two wells during the weekend, but Travis said the steps taken to secure the wells — they were quenched with cold water, plugged and then capped with additional insulation — have so far yielded satisfactory protection.

Travis warned, however, that lava entering PGV might still produce hazardous fumes in the area near the power plant.

“Nothing that I know of is designed to operate with lava intrusion,” Travis said. “There’s going to be some things that burn up. It’s going to make a big black cloud and smell real bad and probably not be good to breathe.”

Fumes are not the only respiratory hazard for Puna residents. Pele’s hair, a fibrous form of volcanic glass, was reported Tuesday morning in Pahoa.

Fenix Grange, chief of the state Department of Health’s Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office, said rain Tuesday helped keep the wispy substance from being disruptive, but cautioned that it can be a skin and eye irritant, and that those with respiratory issues should wear particulate masks to avoid inhaling the substance.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 24 fissures have opened since May 3, but only fissures 8, 18 and 19 are active. Seventy-one homes have been destroyed, confirmed Magno, and 236 evacuees were in shelters — 215 at Pahoa, 16 in Keaau and the remaining five at the Sure Foundation church.

Highway 130 remains passable. Stovall said there is still no sign of hydrogen sulfide or sulfur dioxide being emitted from the cracks on Highway 130, which is an indication that magma is not moving toward those cracks. The cracks have been covered with steel plates and the highway is accessible to public traffic.

Traffic on Highway 130 was disrupted Tuesday when large heavy machinery was transported to Kalapana in advance of eventual work to reopen Chain of Craters Road as an emergency evacuation route for lower Puna, in case Highway 130 is compromised. The machinery included a bulldozer to assist with the clearing of old lava flows from the closed roadway, said state Department of Transportation spokesperson Shelly Kunishige.

Work on Chain of Craters Road cannot begin until a memorandum of understanding is completed between the DOT and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, through which the road passes, Kunishige said.

Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said the agreement currently is in legal review, but could not comment as to when it will be finalized.

At Kilauea summit, Stovall said the Overlook crater inside Halema‘uma‘u crater has widened as the receding lava lake caused the vent’s walls to collapse. A steam explosion early Tuesday morning propelled white-hot “incandescent blocks” into the air onto the crater rim and generated an ash plume higher than 15,000 feet.

Ferracane said the park has sustained earthquake damage from recent tremors. Park facilities are without water after at least eight lines were damaged, Ferracane said before adding that there is little sense in repairing the damage immediately, as the park remains closed and tremors are still frequent.

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The Department of Health will host a meeting at 5:30 p.m. today at the Robert Herkes Gym and Emergency Shelter in Pahala to discuss air quality and vog issues in the Ka‘u District.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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