Hawaii lava puts rural communities in 'limbo'

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HONOLULU (AP) — The leading edge of closely watched lava threatening rural communities on Hawaii's Big Island advanced slightly after about a week of no movement, and then it stopped again.

The leading edge crept about 25 yards from Saturday to Sunday.

"The leading edge, the front of the flow, actually stopped and it was cooling," Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said Monday. "Yesterday and this morning, we saw activity on the north side of the flow."

While the leading edge didn't advance Monday in the previous 24 hours, a breakout lava flow upslope advanced about 100 yards, he said.

Oliveira said he's watching that active breakout, which could end up becoming the flow's new leading edge as it turns east.

While there's no immediate threat, the lava's slow-moving activity poses eventual harm to communities in the rural and isolated Puna district.

"It just feels like we're in lava limbo," said Tiffany Edwards Hunt, who owns a Pahoa surf shop with her husband. "It's pretty hectic, actually, as far as I'm concerned. It's really difficult to plan ahead. This is a time we'd be ordering for Christmas and getting stocked up and ready for the Christmas season."

But instead, they're putting many items on sale to lighten their load, yet they don't want to leave residents without basic surf supplies such as board wax and leashes, she said.

There's also the uncertainty of not knowing where the lava flow is headed.

"I've gone from completely depressed and deflated and now I'm trying to come up with scenarios on how we'll use our space if we're not in her path," said Hunt, referring to Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. "With this breakout to the north, it just kind of feels like she's expanding her scope a bit."

Scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory last week stopped providing estimates for when lava could reach communities because of the slow or minimal activity. But scientists planned a helicopter flight on Monday to map the flow and possibly provide timeframes. When the front of the flow appeared to stall, it was estimated to be within weeks from reaching major roads.

The cooled, stalled front remains in vacant lots within the Kaohe Homesteads subdivision, Oliveira said.

"This is unique in that it's slow torture," Hunt said, comparing the lava to other disasters that happen suddenly. "Do we have a couple of weeks? Do we have a couple of months?"


Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .

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