Hawaii volcano: Will flowing lava force evacuations?

As creeping lava threatens the village of Pahoa, Hawaii, officials are preparing to evacuate the area.

U.S. Geological Survey/AP
Lava pushes through a fence marking a property boundary above the town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii on Tuesday.

As lava crawls closer to houses and other buildings, residents of Pahoa, Hawaii, may soon have to evacuate the area. Many more citizens in the Puna district have been affected by the flow so far, and state officials are preparing for lava to overtake homes soon.

The Kilauea volcano overwhelmed a residential area on Tuesday morning, and later that evening, lava was about 370 yards away from Pahoa Village Road, having advanced some 230 yards since Sunday evening.

A civil defense alert said that residents were notified of a “possible need for evacuation,” but residents began leaving their homes as early as September.   

Though the current eruption began in 1983, lava from the volcano started to flow on June 27 of this year and, after a brief standstill in September has now creeped to Pahoa, CNN reported. An emergency shelter in Keaau, about six miles from Pahoa, has cots and bathrooms available for those who have evacuated their homes, Hawaii News Now reported Monday. 

Other measures so far include the restoration of different routes around affected areas, according to Hawaiian civil defense officials. As of last week, about 900 children were displaced from school because of the volcano. On Friday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie officially asked for federal aid.

Pahoa, which is home to about 950 people on the Big Island, is no stranger to disaster. State officials have handled emergencies in the past by distributing information and lowering barriers to state resources.

When Hurricane Iselle threatened to hit Big Island last summer, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a proclamation that eased state officials’ access to emergency resources, Hawaii News Now reported at the time. Eventually, the hurricane rolled through as a moderately intense tropical storm. Emergency shelters opened throughout the state when power outages blanketed the island, The Weather Channel reported.

In the past, the state’s emergency management agency website has posted fact sheets on topics related to disaster.“What should I do in an emergency if my kids are at school or daycare?” one asks. (The first step, according to the sheet, is to learn about the school’s emergency plan.)

More than 27 inches of rain hit Hilo, also on the Big Island, in November 2000 floods. Nearly $9 million of county funds went toward repairs, and then-President Bill Clinton declared the area a state of emergency.

The volcano is a sacred place, known as Tutu Pele — a deity who is known for taking her land back from humans.

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