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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 6, 2008

Kilauea flow crosses access road

Volcano stirring
Activity at Big Island's Kilauea is heightening as the eruption of the island's youngest volcano entered a new phase. Read our stories, see more photos, and see video.

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i Lava from Kilauea volcano crossed an access road built at the end of Highway 130 Tuesday evening, cutting off a lava-viewing site and separating a handful of residents from their homes.

Neil Gyotoku, spokesman for Big Island Civil Defense, said about five residents were evacuated from the area Monday, and no one was trapped by the flow.

By yesterday afternoon, the lava had covered about half the distance from the road to the sea. Assuming the flow continued at that rate, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge James Kauahikaua said he expected the flow would reach the ocean by late last night or early this morning.

Kauahikaua also reported that a second finger of lava was moving downslope and headed toward the road east of the point where the first flow cut the road on Tuesday.

The county built the 2.6-mile road from the end of Highway 130 to a turnaround point for lava viewing in 2001, and the site was a popular stop for cruise ship passengers who visited the Big Isle.

The residents who were evacuated this week had built a cinder road that extended from the turnaround area at the lava-viewing site to their properties southeast of Royal Gardens.

Two women who had been living there removed their trailer from the area earlier this week, and another man who was building a structure returned to his permanent home in Hawaiian Paradise Park, Gyotoku said.

Another person was living in the area in a "tentlike structure," he said.

Over the weekend, a lava tube system developed that carried lava to a relatively level area near the lower portion of Royal Gardens, and the lava then veered to the southeast toward the lava-viewing area.

After threatening the road for days, the lava finally cut the route about 50 yards east of the lava viewing site, he said.

The evacuated residents and the last two residents who still live in the Royal Gardens subdivision will now be able to reach their homes only by traveling on the Chain of Craters Road in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and going northeast across cooled, older lava fields.

Most of Royal Gardens has been covered, with the most recent flows burning four or five abandoned structures in the subdivision during the past two weeks, Gyotoku said.

The area is closed to the public at the end of Highway 130, but county and state crews have been working to cut a new road to a new lava-viewing site in a safe spot, an effort authorities hope will also protect property owners in the area from trespassers.

For months, Civil Defense officials have closed the lava-flow areas to the public for safety reasons, meaning the lava was visible only by air. The flow that has emerged from Royal Gardens presents the easiest ground access to a lava flow in some time.

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said county officials hope to have the new lava-viewing site open by this weekend "and give people a real experience as far as seeing nature's power."

"We're doing this because, as you know, they'll go in there by the hundreds of thousands," Kim told state and county workers at a meeting to discuss the project yesterday. "You can anticipate an average of 1,000 people out there a day, or more."

The county will have a command post set up in the area, but county officials warned potential visitors that there is no cell phone service in much or most of the area.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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