KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Lava flow from the Kilauea volcano that has been creeping toward inhabited areas of Hawaii’s Big Island for months is now just 70 yards (metres) from the nearest residential property, authorities said on Monday.
Residents in the path of the lava have been placed on alert for possible evacuation, and smoke advisories have been issued for downwind areas, the County of Hawaii said in a civil defence alert.
The lava flow, which first bubbled out of the continuously erupting volcano on June 27, came to a standstill in late September but resumed its slow crawl several weeks ago. It has moved about 275 yards since Sunday morning.
The leading edge of the flow, which is about 110 yards wide and spreading, has overrun a cemetery on its path toward Pahoa village, a historic former sugar plantation consisting of small shops and homes with a population of about 800 people.
The civil defense message said the lava was advancing about 10 to 15 yards an hour, but had slowed considerably to some two yards per hour by late afternoon.
While its speed has varied, if the lava continues on its current trajectory it could impact property in the next day or so.
Two roads have been closed and the American Red Cross has opened an emergency shelter, according to the office of Mayor Billy Kenoi.
By Monday afternoon, the leading edge of the lava was 570 yards from Pahoa Village Road, the major thoroughfare through town, Kenoi’s office said.
Pahoa resident Miki Warren said the road closures and visitors flocking to the town looking for a glimpse of lava have snarled traffic, and that she has decided to move in with her boyfriend because her home is threatened.
“It’s affecting us in every aspect of our lives,” said Warren, who works at a surf shop in town. “There’s just no escaping it.”
Crews have been scrambling to build temporary access roads and protect Highway 130, a major route traveled by as many as 10,000 cars a day.
Without such access roads, some 8,000 people in the Puna district could become “lava-locked” if Highway 130 were to become impassable.
The Kilauea volcano has erupted from its Pu’u O’o vent since 1983. The last home destroyed by lava on the Big Island was at the Royal Gardens subdivision in Kalapana in 2012, according to Big Island Civil Defence.