Third evacuation route being planned in case Highway 130 becomes impassable

The state Department of Transportation is planning to build a third evacuation route in case Highway 130 is no longer passable in lower Puna.

A section of the highway between Pahoa and Kalapana has been damaged by the ongoing eruption on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone but remains passable with the help of steel plates.

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In case it no longer can be used, DOT and contractors re-established an evacuation route on the former Chain of Craters Road through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and to Alaili Road through private property.

Tim Sakahara, DOT spokesman, said a third route will go from the highway through the Black Sand subdivision and connect with Kaohe Homesteads.

He didn’t have a timeline for when the work would begin or how much it could cost. But Sakahara said these emergency projects have been moving fairly quickly.

“We want to be prepared for anything in order to keep the communities connected,” he said.

Sakahara said the cracks on the highway continue to emit heat, but the situation there remains stable.

The lower Puna eruption overall remains fairly consistent, with a large lava channel flowing from fissure 8 in Leilani Estates through Kapoho and into the ocean.

A weak lava fountain also was observed at fissure 22, according to Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, said residents should be aware that activity can change quickly.

“We’re watching it,” he said. “People cannot let their guard down. The ones who live in that area, they got to be ready.”

Magno said areas that could be at risk include the rest of Leilani Estates, Nanawale Estates and “everyone that is downslope of a fissure.”

So far, the lava channel has remained stable with small overflows.

As of Friday, the county has confirmed 614 homes destroyed by the eruption, which started May 3.

Renee Bafalis, a spokeswoman with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said 1,261 households have registered with FEMA for assistance. She estimated 2,800 people have been evacuated because of the eruption.

A Disaster Recovery Center is open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. seven days a week at Keaau High School.

In addition to help from FEMA, lava evacuees can get low-interest loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration and unemployment assistance through the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

A toll-free legal aid hotline can be reached at 1-800-499-4302 from 9-11:30 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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Magno said discussions continue about opening a public viewing area for the eruption but noted it’s premature to discuss when or where that could be made.

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

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