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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 1:56 p.m., Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lava flow inches toward Big Island homes

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau


This is a 1983 file photo of one of the 190 structures destroyed by lava from the Kilauea volcano over the 25 years of its current eruption on the Big Island.

AP file photo

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HILO, Hawai'i — Big Island Civil Defense officials warned today that a finger of lava has been moving toward the remnants of the Royal Gardens subdivision in Lower Puna and now poses a threat to the upper portion of the remaining homes there.

Most of the upper portion of the subdivision was abandoned after lava repeatedly flowed into the area during Kilauea's ongoing 25-year eruption and cut the highway that provided access to the subdivision. County officials later bulldozed a path through the cooled lava for the handful of remaining residents.

Civil Defense officials warned any remaining residents of Royal Gardens to be aware of fire and smoke hazards as the flow approached the subdivision today.

Access to the area has been restricted to residents only, and there are no vantage points for sightseers because the lava flow is in a remote area, civil defense officials said.

Dale Scharpenberg, who pilots fixed-wing tour flights over the area, said the lava had nearly reached the top of the subdivision near the 1,600-foot elevation this morning. The flow is being fed by a fast-moving stream of lava about 10 feet wide that is then spilling out near the top of the subdivision and fanning out across the terrain.

"It spreads out all over, there's a lot of flow pumping out of there," said Scharpenberg, a pilot for Island Hoppers tour company.

Scharpenberg estimated there are about 10 structures left in the subdivision, but most are unoccupied and have deteriorated over the years. He said there are only about two part- or full-time residents in the subdivision, including one who runs a bed-and-breakfast operation near the western edge of the subdivision.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported the lava flow had traveled more than one mile to the southeast toward the subdivision, and as of 8 a.m. this morning was about eight-tenths of a mile from the top of the subdivision.

The Royal Gardens subdivision originally had 1,827 lots, but much of that property has already been covered. The volcano destroyed more than 60 homes in Royal Gardens since 1983.

Coco Pierson moved out of his house in Royal Gardens in late 1989 — he was one of the last to leave the subdivision — and said he still hopes to return there someday.

"I never abandoned it. I don't think in those kind of terms, but I moved on," Pierson said. "My heart still remains in Royal Gardens, and foolish as it may sound, I hope someday the volcano stops or moves elsewhere, and folks are re-established, and I can sip lemonade on my porch and watch the ocean and the birds."

"I would be exceedingly displeased if lava should come and take my house and bath house and cover the remaining part of my property. I would be very unhappy, but I don't fret a lot about it because I have absolutely no control," Pierson said.

In all, lava from the current eruption has destroyed 190 structures in the Kalapana and surrounding area.

For the latest updates on the volcano, visit http://volcano.wr.usgs.gov/hvostatus.php.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 935-3916.