As Hawaii lava flow threatens town, looters hit evacuated homes

Posted at 3:22 AM, Oct 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-28 03:26:36-04

PAHOA, Hawaii (CNN) — Residents of the community of Pahoa on Hawaii’s Big Island can only watch as lava from Kilauea Volcano inches closer to their homes and businesses.

“Everybody, including myself, is quite nervous,” Rod Macland told CNN affiliate KITV. “We don’t know. We can’t see the future. The flow does what the flow does.”

The lava is swallowing up fences as it moves inch by inch toward Pahoa and is now chest high in some places. It flowed over a cemetery and neared major roads in Pahola, which has about 950 residents.

An evacuation advisory has been issued.

“Most people have vacated,” CNN affiliate KHON quoted Hawaii County Civil Defense worker Franchesca Martin-Howe as saying. “They have moved out of their homes. There’s only a few people left.”

Heavy smoke a problem

The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said Monday that lava is about 70 yards from the closest home and moving in a northeast direction. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) said the lava is flowing 8 to 11 yards per hour.

The smoke is a problem for residents, especially those with respiratory conditions.

“It’s burning through thick brush, fern,” Tim Orr, USGS geologist, told CNN affiliate KHNL. “A lot of smoke (is) coming off the front, a lot of cracking noises, methane explosions are going on. So it’s a noisy situation out there just from all the burning vegetation.”

This lava flow is expected to displace 900 school children in the area. Residents who don’t expect their homes to be destroyed worry about being cut off.

“A lot of us are loading up on gas, getting generators in case the energy goes out,” Mike Hale told CNN. “And we’re checking to make sure the Internet stays up.”

The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said they’d received no reports of looting at evacuated houses or businesses.

Power company crews are installing new 70-foot-tall poles with heat resistant protection on Pahoa Village Road, KITV reported. The new poles will allow cables to be raised higher off the road if lava hits there.

Billy Kenoi, the Big Island mayor, said residents must work together.

‘Everybody knows what’s happening’

“As it gets closer, the key is communication with the community, keeping people informed and everybody continue to work around the clock really hard just to minimize as much as possible the impact on the people of Pahola,” he told KNHL.

But many residents are rolling with the punches in this slow-motion disaster.

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

“I think it’s going to be a little intense at first, a little crazy,” resident Geri Tolchin told KITV. “I think people will adjust. Everybody knows what’s happening.”

Macland said people must plan to rebuild.

“Everybody would wish this lava flow to stop,” he told KITV, “but it’s not going to happen,”