NATURAL WONDER: BIG ISLAND PREPARES FOR CROWDS
COURTESY U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Lava flowed yesterday from Kilauea volcano on the Big Island. A finger of lava that has been running through the Royal Gardens subdivision might reach the ocean today, a volcano expert said.
Lava makes final push to sea
HILO » A coastal Big Island lava flow could reach the ocean by this morning, Hawaii Volcano Observatory head Jim Kauahikaua said yesterday.
Hawaii County Civil Defense ordered five people to evacuate from the area Tuesday, just ahead of advancing flows. The tip of the flow, which was above the gravel access road Tuesday, crossed the road yesterday, Kauahikaua said.
The evacuees included two people in a trailer, which they simply drove away, and a man in a tent next to an illegal structure he was building at Pacific Paradise Oceanfront Estates, said Royal Gardens resident Jack Thompson.
But Thompson, counted as one of the evacuees, said he planned to go back tomorrow, since he has guests arriving by helicopter at his hillside bed-and-breakfast on Saturday. And fellow Royal Gardens resident Dean Schneider, also counted as a evacuee, is still in the subdivision, Thompson said.
Thompson was not concerned about county security personnel posted to keep people out. "I just tell them I'm a resident, I know my way and I'm going home," he said.
The mere fact that a lava flow hundreds of feet wide now separates his house from the outside world did not bother him. "I just ride right across," he said.
Thompson has even ridden his motorcycle across red, flowing lava in the past. "It probably isn't hotter than a road in Texas," he said.
This viewpoint might not sit well with Civil Defense officials, but it is part of the lure of an alien landscape.
Gov. Linda Lingle was one of the people attracted, but her National Guard flight to the area was postponed because of trouble with the helicopter, Mayor Harry Kim said.
Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, head of state Civil Defense, said the governor still plans to fly there within a few days.
The big influx of visitors is still expected via cars and tour vans driving to a new county lava-viewing site as soon as preparations are complete.
Kim told officials assembled at the county Civil Defense building that he wanted portable toilets in place and other preparations complete by tomorrow, but an official opening is now likelier on Saturday or later.
Judging from the experience at a county viewing site in 2001-2002, more than 1,000 people per day can be expected, Kim said. "The mission is to make viewing safe," he said.
While "laze," or lava haze, containing hydrochloric acid droplets is a concern, that only stopped viewing one day in 2001-2002, Kim said.
County Managing Director Dixie Kaetsu said other concerns are people bringing enough water during the day and flashlights at night.
Cell phones are nearly useless in the area, so lost people cannot call for help. They work "maybe here, maybe there, mostly nowhere," Kim said.
Meanwhile, Kauahikaua said, a new finger of lava was flowing above the gravel access road and could eventually cause trouble.
Kim responded, "If you think this is going to be steady and predictable, you're going to get an education."