Guard troops sent to site of slow but relentless lava flow headed toward Hawaii road, homes

PAHOA, Hawaii – The Hawaii National Guard is deploying troops to a rural Hawaii town as lava makes a slow crawl toward a major road and threatens to further isolate the community that got its start during the lumber and sugar-plantation heyday.

Hawaii County Civil Defence Director Darryl Oliveira said the National Guard deployed 83 troops to Pahoa on Thursday to help provide security. The troops will help with a roadblock and with other safety issues.

Lava from a vent at Kilauea volcano has been sliding northeast toward the ocean since June. Last month, scientists said it was two weeks away from hitting the main road in Pahoa, a town of about 950 residents. The lava slowed but largely has remained on course.

Pahoa residents say the lava will reshape the community yard by yard as it creeps toward the ocean.

“She is so gentle but so unrelenting. She is just slow and steady,” said Jamila Dandini, a retiree who stopped at a coffee shop down the road from where scientists have forecast the lava likely will cross. Like many others, Dandini refers to the lava as Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess.

So far, the lava has burned a shed and a lot of vegetation. A finger of lava that branched off the main flow remained 100 feet from a house Thursday.

The front of the flow was “sluggish” Thursday, Oliveira said, moving less than 5 yards per hour.

The languid pace has given residents time to pack their valuables and get out of the way. But it’s been agonizing for those wondering whether the lava might change directions and head for them, and stressful for those trying to figure out how they will cope once the lava blocks the town’s only roads.

“It’s like slow torture. It speeds up, it slows down. It speeds up, it slows down,” said Paul Utes, who owns the Black Rock Cafe.

Utes’ restaurant is just a few hundred yards south of where the lava likely will cross the main road. Even if the cafe is spared, he doesn’t know how traffic will be diverted once the flow covers the road, how his vendors will supply his restaurant and what his customers will do.

For now, business is up because more locals and tourists have been streaming into town hoping to get a glimpse of the molten rock.

Once the lava crosses the main road and the bypass road — effectively slicing Pahoa in half — few residents will be able to get to the area’s only supermarket, though it’s just a mile from the town centre.

Puna will be cut off even more if the lava travels all the way to the ocean, some 6 miles away.

Some businesses are closing or moving, while others are vowing to stay.


Associated Press writer Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.