ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lava from Kilauea Volcano dribbled over a 20-foot sea cliff into the ocean yesterday, forming clouds of acid-laden steam. When Hawaii County's new lava viewing site opens tomorrow, county, state and federal workers participating in the effort should treat the event like the grand opening of a new store, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim told them yesterday. "I need you to share the excitement of what you're viewing," he said.
Madame Pele ends another run to sea
Mayor fashions showcase for volcano's display
HILO » Mayor Harry Kim and county Managing Director Dixie Kaetsu took a leisurely hike yesterday morning to the area on the Puna coast where lava began entering the sea overnight.
It was probably one of the last moments when they or anyone else will have entirely to themselves the experience of flowing lava, a steaming ocean and crystalline older flows crunching underfoot.
Starting with an opening ceremony for a new county viewing site at 2 p.m. tomorrow, Kim expects large crowds to view the natural spectacle that he loves so much himself.
That's exactly the way he wants it.
Most lava flows worldwide are in such remote places and produced by eruptive forces so much more dangerous than Hawaii's that few people see them, Kim told representatives of numerous county, state and federal agencies yesterday.
"Madame Pele is giving us a tremendous opportunity to admire her creation. I need you to share the excitement of what you're viewing," Kim told them.
The excitement is caused by a change in the eruption last July that shifted lava from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to state land outside the park and, during a period of months, to flows that eventually entered the ocean yesterday.
County and state road crews were busy yesterday trying to make a one-lane gravel road clear enough to handle as many as 5,000 visiting cars per month, if a 2001-2002 county viewing program is an indicator.
With lava flowing through roughly the same area then, the county opened free viewing in August 2001, then counted cars and vans as it charged fees from September to the following April. The eight-month count came to 19,748 cars and 619 commercial vans, said county official Nancy Crawford.
Segments of the road to the viewing area are two-lane, well-paved remnants of Highway 130 that used to link to the park's Chain of Craters Road.
Other segments are bulldozed tracks across intervening lava flows from prior years, so narrow that a driver gets nervous about sliding off the road when another car squeezes by.
Turnaround areas will be on the paved segments of the old highway, but handling traffic will be difficult if any more than about 30 cars arrive at a time, which Kim easily expects tomorrow.
The county is making preparations with portable toilets and emergency water supplies, but Kim continued to urge visitors to bring their own water and flashlights for night viewing.
"It's not dangerous if you know what you're doing," he said.
Viewing -- free, for now -- will be allowed between 2 and 10 p.m., with the last car allowed in at 8 p.m.
Besides going into the ocean, the lava is spreading and forming fingers. Two have already cut the tail end of the access road.
"There is a certainty of more fingers," said Jim Kauahikaua, head of Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
COURTESY HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
Lava entered the ocean yesterday on the Big Island for the first time since June. A small delta along the face of the sea cliff on the Puna coast had emerged by yesterday morning.
Viewing hot spot
Lava viewing offers a spectacle but requires precautions. Details of the new county viewing site:
Opening ceremony: 2 p.m. tomorrow, end of Highway 130
Daily viewing: From 2 to 10 p.m. Last car in at 8 p.m.
Fees: None, but might be charged later
Expected attendance: As many as 1,000 per day
Hike from road to sea: One-half mile, rough ground, no shade
Precautions: Bring water, sunscreen, flashlights
Cell phones: No service for miles