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In awe of lava: Hundreds flock to view Kalapana flow

Updated: 
July 4, 2016 - 9:41am

HILO — Cascading rivers of molten rock are attracting hundreds of awed spectators to Kalapana for a close look at a force that continues to shape Hawaii Island.

On Thursday alone, Hawaii County Civil Defense estimated at least 650 people passed through a viewing area near the end of Highway 130 in a 7-hour window.

“There were still people exiting the viewing area” at 10 p.m. after counting stopped, said Civil Defense spokeswoman Kanani Aton.

The lava flow from Kilauea’s Puu Oo vent started attracting a few curious onlookers about a week ago as small red dots at the top of the pali became visible at night several miles away.

To no surprise, the flow, designated by Hawaiian Volcano Observatory as episode 61g, has in a short time become a major attraction after gushing down the pali, marking Pele’s return to the coastal plain after a three-year absence.

For those who have watched the flow from a few miles away or a few feet, it has yet to disappoint.

“It’s almost like a spiritual experience,” said George Orais-Bonheimer of Hilo.

He said he hiked to the flow front at the base of the pali after midnight Friday. About 20 to 30 others were present, some with sticks and marshmallows, Orais-Bonheimer said.

“At a certain point everyone just had to sit down and stare at the lava,” which was pooling at the pali’s base, he said.

“Honestly, the hardest part was leaving.”

Lava viewers can hike 3 miles along the emergency route established in 2014 over former portions of Highway 130/Chain of Craters Road covered by earlier flows from the ongoing 33-year eruption.

Civil Defense officials are advising people not to leave the road for their own safety and to avoid trespassing on private property. The flow is up to 2 miles from the road, with hazardous terrain in between (not to mention the dangers presented by a stream of 2,000-degree molten rock).

The county established a parking area at mile markers 21 and 22 on the highway near the start of the emergency route, which parallels the coastline and connects with Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The lava flow is visible from the parking area.

Ed Teixeira, Civil Defense interim administrator, said people intending to hike along the road beyond that point should be prepared with proper footwear, flashlights and enough water.

“Most people who came out felt it was worth the hike in,” he said. “You got to be prepared.”

Security guards are posted at the parking area and along the emergency route. Portable toilets are available at both ends of the viewing area.

Aton said cards with safety tips and other advice will be distributed.

HVO geologist Tim Orr said the flow will continue a “very slow progression” at the base of the pali. Eventually, a tube system will form over the existing open channels on the hillside, making it harder to see from a distance.

Multiple channels of ‘a‘a have been flowing rapidly down the pali, hurling boulder-like chunks of lava down with it.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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