Hawaii volcano: Lava inches closer to homes, but some might stay

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The molten rock is flowing at about 30 feet per hour

At that rate, houses could be hit on Wednesday or Thursday

Pahoa, Hawaii CNN  — 

A 2,000-degree river of lava could swallow a dozen Hawaiian homes in the next day or two – and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Molten rock from the Kilauea Volcano was about 350 yards from the nearest cluster of homes late Tuesday night, said Troy Scott of the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.

At some point Wednesday, the glowing lava could be visible from the houses, he said.

Authorities went door-to-door warning residents of the fiery ooze, but so far no mandatory evacuations are in place.

“In many cases we will not force them leave, unless it becomes an unsafe condition,” Scott said.

September 15, 2014 — Kīlauea
A closer view of surface activity on the June 27th lava flow. This pāhoehoe flow consists of many small, scattered, slow-moving lobes burning vegetation.
Unstoppable lava nears Hawaii homes
03:20 - Source: CNN

Fortunately, the lava is only traveling about 30 feet per hour – much slower than walking pace.

“As it moves across soil, you can hear and smell the fire,” Scott said. “It is incredibly hot … the heat is very strong.”

Getting out … or staying in

While many residents have already evacuated or moved their belongings, some might actually stay to watch the lava envelop their houses.

Scott said those people would be taken to a safe distance “to allow them to have their closure.”

“We’re going to be very sensitive to the fact that they’ll be losing their home, and this would be a catastrophic event,” Scott said.

The slow-moving lava flow began moving toward Pahoa in June, when a volcanic crater vented and released the river of liquid rock.

“Our goal is to work with the residents and business owners, as the lava flow goes through their area,” said Darryl Oliviera, director of the Hawaii County Civil Defense. “There will be an opportunity for them to stay on site as long as it’s safe to do so.”

Chest-high lava in some places

The dark ooze has already swallowed up fences, flowed over a cemetery and neared major roads. On Tuesday, it set a wooden garden shed ablaze.

In some parts of this community of about 950 residents, the lava is chest high.

Alii Hauanio has started packing his things, including his parents’ memorabilia, CNN affiliate KHNL reported. His mother and father lost their dream Kalapana beach home to lava flow in 1991, and Hauanio never thought he’d see his home meet the same fate, he told the station.

He hopes to watch the lava pass through, if it does.

“To see it, in actuality, I think it might bring closure to know that it’s done and turn that page, and we’re starting another chapter,” Hauanio told the affiliate.

Oliveira said authorities weren’t going to try to divert the flow.

“No matter how you would turn it, you would direct it toward someone’s property,” he said.

Taking precautions

The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency has rebuilt two gravel roads to give residents escape routes from the lava flow. Power company crews are installing 70-foot-tall poles with heat resistant protection to raise cables higher off the roads.

Kristen Okinaka, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Electric Light Company, said there were no outages due to the lava flow.

Bay Clinic said those needing medication will still be able to get it.

“If for some reason someone can’t get to our clinic, we will be there with the mobile unit,” CEO Harold Wallace said.

‘There’s no stopping it’

The lava flow is not exactly a surprise, since it started June 27 and has advanced about 13 miles since then. Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

What could change, though, is the pace of the flow. If the lava channels through a narrow area, the flow could accelerate.

Either way, “this lava flow is going to continue,” Scott said. “There’s no stopping it.”

What to know about volcanoes

CNN’s Martin Savidge reported from Pahoa; Holly Yan reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Ralph Ellis, Michael Pearson and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.