When lava flows, plan for the worst and hope for the best
Hawaii County officials are making plans in case Kilauea's lava reaches populated areas.
RESIDENTS in subdivisions northeast of Kilauea Volcano are understandably unsettled as a lava flow inches toward their homes
and the single road that provides access to and from the sprawling region.
While there is no immediate danger to the thousands of people in the Puna district down slope from the volcano's East Rift Zone, county officials are appropriately preparing for the possibility that lava could reach developed areas and Highway 130.
Authorities, including Civil Defense officials and Mayor Harry Kim, should make sure residents are clued in to plans even though scenarios of what might and might not occur with continued volcanic activity are myriad and, at present, largely unpredictable.
The county has set up a Web site (www.lavainfo.us) with links to the latest information from the volcano observatory and Civil Defense advisories, but some people do not have computer access. Others, especially those who are new to the fast-growing district, may be unfamiliar with the situation.
Right now, the aa flow is about 12 miles from the road, moving slowly on the surface, but could change to pahoehoe type, which moves more swiftly. If the lava reaches the highway, residents could be cut off from East Hawaii's commercial and employment districts.
One of the few options would be to restore a 7.5-mile segment Chain of Craters Road -- which runs through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to the coastline-- that was connected to Highway 130 before lava inundated it in the mid-1980s. But that has been the nearby site of frequent flows from Kilauea until the recent shift of activity to the northeast. Also problematic is the increased driving distance that would triple commutes between Hilo and Puna and the mix of sightseeing tourists with heavy car and commercial truck traffic on the park's winding, two-lane byways.
Another alternative would be along a narrow, unpaved road that runs between the Hawaiian Beaches and Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivisions, but that, too, would require major work to establish a passable highway.
County Councilwoman Emily Naeole, though concerned about the possibility of destructive lava streaming through her neighborhood, says she's "trying not to freak out." That would be a good attitude for the public to adopt while keeping abreast of the threat, making personal contingency plans and hoping for the best.
As Mayor Kim noted, there are so many "what ifs" to declare with any certainty what will be done should the worst come to pass. Still, officials should be consistently keeping residents informed about contingencies.