Saturday, March 15, 2008

Kilauea Volcano's lava reached the ocean

The latest flow from Kilauea Volcano reached the ocean overnight, according to scientists with the Hawaii Volcano Observatory.

A scientist flew over the flow with Hawaii County officials on Thursday morning.

"On a general basis, it is a real strong tube that leads to the ocean and is quite a healthy flow at this time," Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said.

Access to Kilauea's eruption was cut off Wednesday after the current lava flow crossed the last Big Island access road to the site.

Kim warned that people should stay out of the area at this time because of the potential for part of the flow to break off and surround them. County officials said they know there are people sneaking into the site at night, but police and state park officials are out advising people the area is restricted.

County and state highway personnel are working to cut a road to a new lava-viewing site. The road would cut the 2.5- to 3-mile walk that people would otherwise have to face.

Kim said he hopes to have the new road for people to view the flow up by 2 p.m. on Saturday. The area will be accessible from 2 p.m.-10 p.m. each day. That is subject to change, depending on any potential dangers.

Hawaii County and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park workers will man the site to inform and educate the people who go to the area, Kim said. Kim said that based on past experience, he expects more than 1,000 sightseers per day.

The National Park's flow has continued to hit the water, but people are kept at least a quarter-mile from the flow because of the direction of the wind and the potential for fumes.

Kim said he hopes to set up the viewing area just a few hundred yards away.

He urged people to bring shoes, water and flashlights when they do go to the new lava-viewing area.

After threatening for several days, lava crossed the access road at the end of Highway 130, cutting off a lava-viewing site and forcing evacuations. The 2.6-mile road was built to the lava-viewing site in 2001.

The lava hitting the ocean is a spectacular sight.

"Lava going into the ocean is a phenomena that is a rarity because most volcanic eruptions in the world takes place in such remote areas that are so very dangerous that very few people have the opportunity to see it," Kim said. "This is a special opportunity that the government can make this power of nature, creation of nature visible to the average person."

Big Island Civil Defense officials said the lava continues to make its way through the Royal Gardens subdivision toward the ocean. The flow could reach the ocean as soon as this weekend, officials said.

"The speed at which she moved from the base to where she is now is much, much faster than anyone, I'm talking about the scientists, anticipated. We are where we thought we would be by maybe next week sometime at the earliest, and here we are," Kim said.

Lava from the volcano eruption that began in 1983 destroyed four or five abandoned structures in Royal Gardens over the past two weeks.

The flow forced the last residents to leave the area.

The homes that were in danger were not destroyed on Thursday, officials said.

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