When will the lava hit Pahoa?

That question was understandably top of mind in Hilo, where I spent much of Thursday and Friday covering a gubernatorial candidate forum and speaking at a Big Island Press Club panel.

The question of Kilauea was the first thing I heard when I took my seat on Hawaiian Airlines as I flew to Hilo. The passenger sitting next to me said it was “crazy” for anyone to buy land anywhere below Keaau, and he had little sympathy for folks who took advantage of all the cheap land. (Those “crazy” folks include members of my own family.)

Gabbard in helicopter over Puna

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard gets an aerial view of the lava flow.

U.S. Rep.Tulsi Gabbard

The question of Kilauea was also the last thing I heard as I caught my flight back to Honolulu. I sat in the row behind U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and his top aides, Andy Winer and Malia Oshima Paul, who talked with me about their trip to the area. Schatz showed me a cellphone photo of a big audience attending a community meeting where residents received the latest updates from government officials.

Schatz and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard were on island to learn the latest on the lava flow’s progress. With Mayor Billy Kenoi, the congressional delegates were able to persuade federal officials to rebuild lava-covered portions of Chain of Craters Road as a two-lane route out of lower Puna in anticipation of Kilauea cutting off access to major roadways.

According to Gabbard’s office, she joined county officials on a helicopter tour of the region while Schatz met with National Park Service Superintendent Cindy Orlando and saw the bulldozer work being done to clear the access road.

Schatz at a Pahoa lava meeting

Sen. Schatz at a Pahoa lava flow community update meeting. Mayor Kenoi is at far left.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard and Schatz also managed to squeeze in a unity breakfast at the Hilo Hawaiian hotel with Big Island Democrats. U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono was there, but U.S. Rep Colleen Hanabusa was not.

While in Hilo I heard lots of praise for Kenoi’s proactive response to the volcanic activity. (On Sunday, Kenoi became the first Big Island mayor to compete in the Ironman Triathlon in Kailua-Kona.) I heard lots of props as well for Civil Defense chief Darryl Oliveira.

So, when will the lava hit Pahoa? The latest prediction is sometime within the next two weeks. But longtime residents told me Kilauea could also suddenly stop. Or it could shift direction and spare Highway 130.

The lava could also go all the way to the ocean, as it did when it destroyed Kalapana in 1990. It took seven years for that to happen. That explains in part why many Pahoa residents surveyed by officials say they are reluctant to evacuate their homes just yet.

Puna residents get lava flow update

The lava’s progress is top of mind for people in Pahoa.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

 

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