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Lava stream creeps closer to Hawaii homes

The lava flow easily burned down an empty shed, several hours after entering a residential property in Pahoa Village, said Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira.

world Updated: Oct 29, 2014 19:45 IST

After weeks of slow, stop-and-go movement, a river of asphalt-black lava was less than the length of a football field from homes in a Big Island community Tuesday.

The lava flow easily burned down an empty shed at about 7:30 am, several hours after entering a residential property in Pahoa Village, said Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira.

A branch of the molten stream was less than 100 yards (90 meters) from a two-story house. It could hit the home later Tuesday if it continues on its current path, Oliveira estimated.

Watch: Hot molten lava slowly moves closer to Hawaii homes

Residents of Pahoa Village, the commercial center of the island's rural Puna district south of Hilo, 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.

Residents of Pahoa Village, the commercial center of the island's rural Puna district south of Hilo, 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.

At least 50 or 60 structures - including homes and businesses - are in the area likely to be hit.

On Tuesday morning, civil defense officials said the lava was about 500 yards (460 meters) from Pahoa Village Road, which runs through downtown and is one of the town's main roads.

Scientists began warning the public about the lava from Kilauea volcano Aug. 22. At the time, residents were cleaning up from a tropical storm that made landfall over the Puna district.

The flow's advance has been inconsistent, ranging from about 2 yards (1.8 meters) to 20 yards (18 meters) per hour, depending on topography, said Janet Babb, a spokeswoman for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

County officials are making arrangements for those living in the lava's path to be able to watch the flow destroy their homes as a means of closure.

"You can only imagine the frustration as well as ... despair they're going through," Oliveira said.

Some schools are closing this week and sending their students to a temporary facility and to other area schools.

The photo provided by the US Geological Survey shows a Hawaii Volcano Observatory geologist standing on a partly cooled section of lava flow near the town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii. (AP photo)

Crews have been building alternate roads, and officials are preparing for the lava to cut off access for some residents who are assigned to vote November 4 at the Pahoa Community Center.

The center will remain open for voting for those who can reach it. Those living on the north side of the flow who are assigned to the center can instead go to the Hawaiian Paradise Community Center.

Terri Mulroy, who runs Kumu Aina Farm with her husband, said the lava flow, while unnerving, has a cleansing quality to it because it keeps development on the lush Hawaiian island in check.

"If it wasn't for the flow, I wouldn't be able to live here," she said. "This land would have been a golf course for the rich."

The lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano is seen in a US Geological Survey (USGS) image taken near the village of Pahoa, Hawaii. (Reuters)
Photo provided by the US Geological Survey shows the lava flow from Kilauea Volcano that began on June 27 nearing the town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii. (AP photo)
Photo provided by the US Geological Survey shows the lava flow from Kilauea Volcano that began on June 27 nearing the town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii. (AP photo)