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Lava Spills Onto Private Property In Hawaii, Closing In On Homes

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

That flaming river of lava on Hawaii's Big Island has reached the edge of a town there. For weeks the flow of molten rock from the Kilauea volcano has been heading downhill toward the small town of Pahoa. Townspeople have been waiting to see which buildings the lava will miss and which it won't. Watching the flow in Pahoa is Hawaii Public Radio Reporter Molly Solomon and she joins us to talk about it. Good morning.

MOLLY SOLOMON, BYLINE: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: You know, how close is this lava from the town at this point? I mean, I've been watching it online and it's pretty dramatic.

SOLOMON: It is. And, you know, it's kind of hard because it does change sort of hour to hour. The flow rate, you know, it can be going as slow as five yards an hour to as quickly as 16 to 20. But right now it has sort of entered the residential property area so it is kind of going by some of the homes that it could potentially destroy. And it's about less than 100 yards from the closest home right now.

MONTAGNE: What does it really mean for the town? I mean, does the lava potentially flow like a river as I just mentioned and hit a few things? Is it just a tossup as to what is going to hit? Or could it take over the whole town?

SOLOMON: Well, right now what geologists are sort of looking at is this kind of path that its going down. It's sort of following the steepest dissent. And that's kind of I'd say a little bit north from most of the kind of businesses in town. It's mostly a residential area and its about 16 to 30 homes that are kind of in the path of the lava flow right now. So those are the ones that could potentially be hit and hurt by the lava. But, I mean, what we've been hearing from civil defense is that it's so hard to predict exactly where the path is going to go because it could potentially turn and maybe go in a different direction and that could really alter the entire forecast of the flow.

MONTAGNE: Now, what's interesting about this is this lava has them flowing from the Kilauea volcano for three decades off and on, but towards the sea - and I guess the surprise here is it’s changed course and is now heading in a completely different direction.

SOLOMON: Exactly so I mean, active lava flow is not something new to a lot of people that kind of live on the east side of Hawaii in this area that is currently in danger of this new flow front that's coming down. But, like you said it normally sort of goes in the other direction, going towards the ocean. Right now the flow front is kind of going down slope and right in its path is this town so it's sort of this weird situation of these people have always known that they live near something like Kilauea, this active volcano, but they've never really thought that they would potentially be in danger.

MONTAGNE: So what are they telling you about evacuating now, the townspeople?

SOLOMON: Well, right now as far as civil defense, they haven't really issued any sort of mandatory evacuation orders, but they have been continuing to go door to door to all of the homes that are in that sort of area that's in the path of the lava flow and they've been notifying people really that they should be leaving as early as yesterday, but just to let them know that it is slow-moving so they do have the opportunity to if they want to see their home, you know, make sure that it's OK as the lava comes near it. It's not that they're in danger right now; it is very, very slow moving, it's not sort of that erupting lava that you might think of when you think of a lava flow movie. But they do still want the residents be prepared and make sure that they've emptied their homes of all their belongings and sort of have plans in place as to where they are going to go.

MONTAGNE: That's reporter Molly Solomon with Hawaii Public Radio, who's watching the lava flow heading towards the town of Pahoa. Thanks very much.

SOLOMON: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.