- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Officials have opened a new road on Hawaii’s Big Island for drivers to take care of their daily needs if encroaching lava crosses a highway and cuts them off from the rest of the island.

At a shopping center where molten rock is expected to hit in about a week, several businesses had already shut down while others were planning to stay open until the last possible moment.

The new road, Railroad Avenue, was designed to help residents get around if the lava crossed Highway 130.

Lava from Kilauea Volcano is now six-tenths of a mile from the intersection of Pahoa Village Road and Highway 130. It advanced 160 yards since the preceding day, picking up speed slightly after taking a slower pace over the last few days.

Drivers began exploring the new Railroad Avenue route within minutes of its opening Saturday, said Hawaii County spokesman Kevin Dayton.

“This by no means means that the highway will become closed any time soon,” said Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator Darryl Oliveira.

Instead, it’s opening now to give drivers the chance to get familiar with a new way of getting around, he said. The gravel road has a speed limit of 20 miles per hour and is not lit at night.

“People need to prepare for some darker conditions out there,” Oliveira said.

The molten rock could be six or seven days away from hitting a shopping center, although the speed changes daily so it’s difficult to predict, Oliveira said.

A supermarket, hardware store and tire shop have already closed, and the Long’s pharmacy was expected to close Saturday, Oliveira said. They’re closing now so that they can move inventory with the help of crews from Oahu who won’t be available during the holidays, he said.

“Some of these businesses are unable to relocate these employees, and therefore will be laying them off,” Oliveira said. “The impact is far-reaching.”

A handful of restaurants - one serving sushi, another serving Chinese food - remain open, along with a clothing store called “Jungle Love.”

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