- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

VOLCANO, Hawaii (AP) Living near the summit of one of the world's most active volcanoes, Kii Morse remembers a childhood devoid of urban distractions like mini-malls and multiplex movie theaters.
But who needs civilization when you're present at the creation?
On Friday, Kilauea marks 20 years of continuous eruption that has added 544 acres of lava and black-sand beach to the Big Island's southeastern shore.
For Mr. Morse and other residents of this volcano-top hamlet, entertainment has been a hike into the community's back yard, across decades-old lava flows to watch nature's most spectacular fire show.
"It was like a drive-in theater," Mr. Morse, 41, recalls from the early days of the eruption. "It was what you did at night."
Visitors numbering up to thousands a day, many of whom call themselves "volcano junkies," have been able to witness the same show Mr. Morse and others say never gets old.
"It's the beauty of the Earth being born right here," Michael Matsumoto of Oahu said after a visit in July.
Lava continuously oozes from Kilauea, sometimes spewing skyward in spectacular fashion as the molten rock seeks out the coast.
In two decades, lava has buried 43 square miles, creating black-sand beaches and an ever-changing coastline. The eruption has become a cottage industry in Volcano, a village of about 3,000 scattered residents near the rim of the volcano's canyonlike caldera.
But Kilauea's slow flow has also destroyed homes, and people have died trying to get too close.
"There is a possibility of disaster, but we try not to think about it," Mr. Morse said. "For us, it's just life."
At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, officials plan to mark the eruption anniversary Saturday, holding open houses at the park's scientific facilities and special guided tours for visitors.
"It's just a marvelous thing," said Don Swanson, scientist in charge at the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. "It's important for the psyche to have natural events like this that are longer lasting than just the brief storms, or what not, that hit.
"This gives us real opportunity to contemplate our environment."
The current Puu Oo-Kupaianaha eruption is Kilauea's 55th episode and ranks as the most voluminous outpouring of lava on the volcano's eastern rift zone in the past six centuries, according to the observatory.
Beginning in 1983, a series of short-lived lava fountains built the massive cinder-and-spatter cone of Puu Oo to the point that it is now visible at sea.
"In 20 years, I've seen Puu Oo formed to where it's a navigable landmark," said resident Steve Young, who moved to Volcano just three months before the current eruption. "I mean, boom. This thing wasn't here 20 years ago. Now airplanes and boats use this thing as a marker. That's a major event on the planet."

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