Imagine you own a home, a pretty little place in the rural, forested area of the Big Island of Hawaii.
Now imagine that day after day and hour after hour, a stream of molten rock creeps ever so slowly, but ever so relentlessly, towards your home.
There’s nothing you can do but watch as liquid stone bubbles and smokes along the cracks in the forest floor, inching nearer and nearer.
(Video from Honolulu Star Advertiser by USGS)
The vent is ten miles uphill from you but the flow has traveled 9.3 miles and it’s moving at 460 yards each day. It started on June 27th. The progress is unrelenting as the lava seeks the sea.
The U.S. Geological Survey says Kilauea is the youngest volcano on Hawaii Island but youth is relative – Kilauea’s first eruption happened between 300,000 and 600,000 years ago. In any event, this is no time for trivia. The fact is that Kilauea is very active and has been erupting since 1983. The name “Kilauea” means “spewing” or “spreading widely.” This time it may spread to your front door.
Kaohe Homesteads is in the Puna District of Hawaii Island. This is a lush, agricultural district where papaya is a major crop. It is on the edge of the Wao Kele o Puna Forest Reserve, Hawaii’s largest remaining lowland wet forest.
It seems that you can’t catch a break. Just a few weeks ago Tropical Storm Iselle made landfall here, toppling trees onto homes and disrupting utilities.
The bubbling magma is about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (~1,100 degrees Celsius). It burns and melts whatever it touches.
It may soon cut off the road that provides access to your neighborhood. The State and County officials hold meetings every few days but the news is uniformly tough to hear – there’s simply nothing anyone can do to halt the flow.
So far there have been no evacuations. This is not an explosive caldera eruption of the kind that makes the nightly news. No spurts of flaming red goop blasting into the area. This is a slow creep, predictable as to speed if not exactly as to route.
In the meantime, your friends and neighbors have been told to get their livestock rounded up and out of the area, just in case.
Some ask if the flow might be diverted but that’s a sensitive subject here. Kilauea is home to Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. A significant number of your neighbors feel that it’s culturally insensitive to interfere with Pele’s will.
So you go home from the meeting smelling the sulfurous by products of the eruption, seeing the smoke plumes rise up not too far away.
If you’re one of the prepared ones, you’ve been packed up for weeks; otherwise, you’re packing right now.
Either way, within the next few days you may have to leave home and wait for a miracle, a chance of fate or the sight of your home bursting into a ball of flames as the melted rock touches it.
It’s possible that disaster will be averted. It all depends on subtle changes in the topography. The odds are looking rather long right now.
Another side of life in Hawaii for some folks. Send a kind thought their way.