Hawaii volcano: Lava flow stalls, though official wary of 'breakouts'

Lava flow oozing closer
Lava flow oozing closer

    JUST WATCHED

    Lava flow oozing closer

MUST WATCH

Lava flow oozing closer 01:25

Story highlights

  • Front of lava flow doesn't budge, "but there's lots of activity behind it," official says
  • He says residents ready to evacuate are "very upset, distraught, frustrated"
  • A geologist says "the flow is still active;" things could change at any moment
  • The lava flow on Hawaii's Big Island began in June; houses and roads are threatened
The lava flow has slowed, if not stalled altogether.
Still, authorities warned Thursday that the threat to eastern Hawaii residents -- much like the oozing, simmering, destructive lava itself -- hasn't gone away.
Darryl Oliveira, the director of the Hawaii County Civil Defense, told reporters that "there's been no movement forward" at the front of the destructive lava stream between Wednesday and Thursday.
"But there's lots of activity behind it," Oliveira said. "... There are breakouts along the margins that we'll have to watch and be wary of."
The lava began moving toward the area of Pahoa, on Hawaii's Big Island, in June, when a volcanic crater vented and released the river of liquid rock.
Chasing the lava in Hawaii
Chasing the lava in Hawaii

    JUST WATCHED

    Chasing the lava in Hawaii

MUST WATCH

Chasing the lava in Hawaii 01:10
Up close as lava inches towards homes
Up close as lava inches towards homes

    JUST WATCHED

    Up close as lava inches towards homes

MUST WATCH

Up close as lava inches towards homes 01:30
It's been creeping along ever since, with authorities warning at one point the main road in Pahoa could be overcome by Friday morning.
The lack of recent movement changes that equation, though the main flow -- which is about 20 yards wide at its tip, expanding to 100 yards farther back -- is still within about 480 feet of that street.
There's no guarantee of what happens next, including whether the stream resumes its forward movement or whether any of its offshoots encroach on people or properties. A USGS geologist has said the lava flow could continue for 30 years.
As Matthew Patrick, a geologist with the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, explained Thursday: "The flow is still active, and there is still scattered activity in the flow.
"So it's just a matter of where that activity is at any given moment."
On Wednesday, Oliveria said about 20 families in the path of the lava have been told to evacuate. Many others have packed up, "prepared to move at a moment's notice" should they, too, get the order.
"You can see some of them walking around; they are still very upset, distraught, frustrated -- the full range of emotions as they're dealing with this crisis," the civil defense director said Thursday.
So far, thankfully, no homes have been buried. Nor have any vehicles. Instead, it's mostly grass and vegetation that have been immersed and scorched.
This isn't a lazy river, after all. It's a 2,000-degree river of molten rock, the kind that a firefighter can't use a hose to stop.
"As it moves across soil, you can hear and smell the fire," said Troy Scott of the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency. "It is incredibly hot ... the heat is very strong."
That's why there are ongoing efforts to make sure people and property are protected, as well as to clear out any hazardous materials, such as those at a one-time gas station, in the lava's potential path.
Local civil defense officials got some help Thursday, in the form of 80 Hawaii National Guard members. Oliveria explained that these guardsmen will drive around on patrols as an extra set of eyes.
He said, "As long as we need them, they'll be here."