Kilauea lava flow steaming into ocean
|Photo gallery: Kilauea flow reaches ocean|
By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Kevin Dayton
HILO, Hawai'i — Lava completed its trip down the slopes of Kilauea volcano and has begun flowing into the ocean, and Big Island officials braced for an expected surge of people visiting the remote Puna coastline to see Madame Pele's handiwork.
The area around the lava flow is still closed to the public, but state and county crews are expected to finish improving about two miles of rough access road today to provide a safe route to trails and observation points where spectators can see the lava.
A blessing and opening of the improved road and turnaround point are scheduled for tomorrow at 2 p.m., according to Big Island Mayor Harry Kim.
After inspecting the scene yesterday morning, Kim told his staff the latest flow offers a fascinating opportunity for visitors to view lava, but also poses risks.
The area has little or no cell phone service, almost no facilities and it will be easy for newcomers to become disoriented as they hike to get closer to the ocean entry, Kim said.
The visitor turnaround is being built in a forested area that was bypassed by previous flows, and another risk is that new fingers of lava could extend from a flow upslope of the access road and enter the old-growth area, starting fires and causing methane explosions as the lava reaches the vegetation, said Jim Kauahikaua, scientist-in-charge of the Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory.
"There is a certainty of more fingers," and scientists will closely monitor the widening flow activity mauka of the improved road, Kauahikaua said. "It's expanding, so it will go east and west."
The lava began entering the ocean late Wednesday or early yesterday morning.
Kauahikaua said the pahoehoe flow is rapidly coating a bench extending off the coast, and is blasting steam into the air as it touches the seawater. He said there is a good chance a second finger of lava will continue downslope and by Saturday also will reach the ocean.
"It's really quite a spectacular sight, a lot of lava going into the ocean," he said.
ACROSS ROYAL GARDENS
The lava flow's passage through the Royal Gardens subdivision prompted Civil Defense to evacuate about five people from the area Monday as the flow threatened to sever an access road that the county built for lava viewing in 2001.
That road was cut Tuesday evening, and now state and county crews are working on a new turnaround further east to allow people to get close to the lava viewing area.
The flow passing through Royal Gardens offers the most accessible lava viewing opportunities from the ground in many months, and county officials expect 1,000 or more visitors a day will head for the new viewing site once it is opened.
Ted Miller, construction and maintenance superintendent for the state Department of Transportation's Highway Division on the Big Island, estimated the improvements are costing the state about $100,000.
More than a dozen state workers were operating graders, backhoes and other equipment to prepare the access road, which is made up of remnants of the old two-lane Highway 130 that was severed repeatedly by lava. The highway remnants are connected by narrow passages cut through lava that covered the highway.
The crews are improving the two-mile route, and adding a turnaround that will double as a helicopter landing area in emergencies, Miller said. Cars can park on the shoulder of the paved stretch, he said.
Traffic may be slow because the links between the paved areas are only one lane wide, forcing motorists to pull over to let one another pass, he said.
MAKING PEOPLE 'HAPPY'
The county in 2001 charged a toll for people who used a similar access road to get to the flow, and Kim said he may impose a similar charge again to recoup the cost of roadwork. Initially, however, there will be no charge to use the road, which will be open from 2 to 10 p.m.
"I think Madame Pele has given us a tremendous opportunity to admire her creation," Kim said.
"Even if this stops one day after it started, we're going to make a few hundred or a few thousand people happy," Kim said. "We're going to make a lot of people experience things that they've never even dreamt about."
Gov. Linda Lingle is expected to survey the flow tomorrow morning from a Hawai'i National Guard helicopter.
Reach Kevin Dayton at firstname.lastname@example.org.