It was standing room only with the crowd overflowing outside of the Pahoa Community Center Thursday night as anxious residents gathered for a town hall meeting on the Pu'u O'o Crater flow that's moving down the east rift zone of Kilauea toward lower Puna. Officials say the flow does not pose any imminent danger, but they are very closely monitoring it's speed and path.
USGS geologists say Wednesday there was no surface activity and no indication the lava was moving forward after inching around two miles of the Kaohe Homestead subdivision over the past two weeks. However, Thursday morning steam was spotted rising above a crack at the east-most end of the lava flow, suggesting lava was once again advancing within a crack below ground. Experts say it now believe the most distant steaming area is 7.4 miles from the vent and 1.6 miles from east boundary of the Wao Kele o Puna Forest Reserve.
"This is very complex terrain. The number of ground cracks make it difficult to determine how quickly and where the lava is flowing," USGS geologist Dr. Jim Kauahikaua said.
Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira says if officials determine there is an imminent danger and residents are being threatened, they will be given at least 36 hours notice to evacuate. Oliveira says there are no plans to attempt to divert the flow and no way of knowing that wouldn't create more hazards or put more people at risk.
"I don't think we can control Mother Nature," Oliveira said.
It has been a tough month for Puna residents who were disappointed to learn Thursday that FEMA has denied issuing a disaster declaration for the region, and with it the possibility of individual federal assistance for storm damage caused by Iselle.
There was a round of applause from the crowd when Oliveira announced Hawai'i Island Mayor Billy Kenoi has requested the governor appeal FEMA's decision. Oliveira says the county is also in the process of applying for FEMA aid under their public assistance program, which would help alleviate the costs associated with repairs to roads and critical infrastructure in the aftermath of Iselle.