PAHOA, Hawaii — A slow-moving river of molten lava from an erupting volcano flowed through a residential property on Hawaii’s Big Island, threatening dozens more homes and businesses, authorities said.
The front from the Kilauea volcano has been slogging toward the town of Pahoa for weeks, with recent speeds averaging around 15 yards an hour.
It incinerated an uninhabited building on Tuesday and a finger broke off toward an evacuated home that could soon be destroyed, said Darryl Oliveira, director of Hawaii County Civil Defense.
The U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said the flow was pushing through the property while its glowing leading edge narrowed to about 55 yards.
Residents of about 50 homes in its projected path have been urged to prepare to leave, and many have slowly emptied their houses.
Several dozen residents and tourists gathered at twilight on Tuesday at the end of a barricaded road to watch, chatting and peering at their phones as the glow from the lava lit up the night.
“Today it’s sad and anxious. It just kind of hurts right in your stomach,” said Paula Modjeska, a healthcare worker who lived in the town for 40 years before recently relocating for work. “I just always thought Pahoa would be here. Makes you think.”
The town is built on the site of a former sugar plantation and has a population of about 800, whose businesses mostly lie south of the area in greatest danger.
Kilauea’s current eruption began in 1983, and the fresh activity stems from a June 27 flow from its Pu’u O’o vent. That flow came to a standstill in September before resuming several weeks ago. It has crossed a road, overrun a cemetery, and triggered methane explosions.
Authorities will urge, but not force, householders and business owners in its path to evacuate when it became necessary, Oliveira said. Plans were in place to deploy National Guard members to provide security against possible looting.
“There is a lot of tension. People are afraid to lose their homes, of course,” said Greg Dencker, a realtor in the town. “It’s really just hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”
Education officials said they would close an endangered elementary school on Wednesday and shutter four more schools on Thursday.
Crews have been building temporary access roads and trying to protect Highway 130, a route traveled by as many as 10,000 cars a day.
Lava from Kilauea destroyed more than 180 homes between 1983 and 1990, but until now none since 2012.
Molten lava can exceed 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit (900 Celsius), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.