A lava flow threatening homes and a town on the Big Island of Hawaii has gained speed in recent days, advancing more than five football fields in just the last 48 hours.
Hawaii civil defense authorities and scientists are closely monitoring the lava’s progress, which is steadily encroaching on the small town of Pahoa and several Big Island subdivisions. The flow is now less than a mile from Pahoa, Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said Thursday.
Oliveira said changes in topography may help slow or change the path of the red-hot lava flow, which emerged from the Kilauea volcano East Rift Zone on June 27 and has traveled roughly 11 miles since then.
Authorities now say they are preparing for the inevitable. About 10,000 residents on the island could be affected, Oliveira said. When the lava gets too close — and Oliveira says he doesn’t yet know when that is — the plan is to give residents three to five days warning before they need to evacuate.
“We’d like to allow people adequate time to make whatever plans they need to make on a comfortable timeline,” Oliveira said.
Authorities said the lava traveled 425 yards from Wednesday morning to Thursday morning. The lava devoured another 130 acres of terrain by Thursday afternoon, officials said.
Emergency roads are already being constructed in case the lava cuts off people living in the lower Puna area. Power company officials began efforts Thursday to protect electrical transmission lines.
Big Island residents are used to living with one of the world’s most active, and sometimes destructive, volcanos. Since the current eruption began in 1983, unstoppable lava flows have added 500 new acres to the island and destroyed at least 181 homes, a visitor center, a church and a community center, according the National Park Service.
Oliveira says past efforts to slow or divert lava flows simply don’t work, and can create more problems.
“Any redirecting of the flow would likely push it into another subdivision in another area, basically putting new properties at risk that would not have been at risk before,” Oliveira told ABC News.
“If we divert it, we are going to push it into someone else’s backyard,” he said.