- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Lava from an active volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island slowed slightly but stayed on track to hit a shopping center in the small town of Pahoa.

The molten rock was 1,200 to 1,300 yards away from the edge of Pahoa Marketplace on Thursday and had advanced about 165 yards from the previous day, said Darryl Oliveira, Hawaii County civil defense administrator.

“We’re just watching the activity on the flow going forward and trying to remain optimistic that we might see a slow down or pause or stall,” Oliveira said.

Lava from Kilauea Volcano is crossing flatter terrain, which may have partly caused the slackening.

Gov. David Ige visited the community Thursday, meeting with impacted residents and teachers and taking an aerial tour of the flow.

“I am amazed at the attitude of the citizens of Pahoa,” Ige told reporters late Thursday. “They are definitely upbeat; the community has really drawn together to work through this disaster.”

During his visit, Ige received an update from Oliveira and took a helicopter tour of the lava flow, which he says changed his perspective on the situation.

“I do know that the eruption has been ongoing for 30 years, and this flow has stretched more than 13 miles,” Ige said. “But to actually see it, to be able to fly over it, to notice the variations in how sometimes it’s very broad and sometimes very narrow, the fits and starts of the flow and the randomness really become very apparent when you get to see the entire flow.”

Ige said he would push to get maximum assistance from the federal government, and would look at what services and assistance the state could provide as it crafts the state budget, which is due to lawmakers next week.

In a morning helicopter flight, Oliveira caught a view of the lava before sunrise and said it was easy to see the breaks and cracks in the partially hardened mass.

“It had a very nice orange feature to it across the edge and the surface, as it wasn’t completely crusted over,” he said.

At its current pace, the lava could hit the marketplace in six days, but that could change, he said. The county plans to cut off the market’s electricity three days before the lava is expected to hit.

A gas station has removed the gasoline from its tanks and will finish removing sludge and vapors by Friday, Oliveira said. If the lava crosses Highway 130, it will make it difficult for residents in the area to access other parts of the island.

“They’re losing at this point their only supermarket, hardware store, one of three gas stations,” Oliveira said. “Everybody’s adjustment to that is appreciated, and we definitely are empathetic to what this means.”

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Follow Cathy Bussewitz on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cbussewitz


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