Students, media tour lava flow

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

County officials turned the Pahoa Transfer Station into a lava viewing area Monday for area students and media.

More than 300 students on Monday morning became the first of more than 1,000 students this week who will get a close-up view of a lava flow that forced them to change schools.

The field trip turned into a hands-on science lesson for elementary school students as they met with geologists, touched hardened lava and shared their feelings.

Students were invited to view parts of Apaa Street overrun by lava and the Pahoa Transfer Station, which was spared when the lava stopped at the end of October.

Tours for 600 more public school students are planned through the week, and include the rest of Pahoa’s students, and those from Keonepoko Elementary, the school that closed Oct. 28.

Nearly 300 students from Keonepoko Elementary, who live south of the flow, now attend Pahoa Elementary. The rest attend classes at the Keaau High School campus.

“Today’s tour gave students the opportunity to visibly see the magnitude of this episode and why they were forced to move,” said. “Today’s event helps tie in what they’re learning in the classroom with what’s happening in nature. It also helps them build their academic vocabulary and give context to their writing.”

Farias said the field trip also helped give students a better understanding of the science behind volcanoes.

“They were very excited to be out of school, for one thing, and they had lots of great questions,” he said. “Even the kids who were worried about the lava, when they got on site and could see it, that made a big difference. It’s disrupted their lives, but this helped them gain context and helped calmed their fears. There were definitely some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ when they got to touch lava.”

Members from the county Civil Defense Agency, including Director Darryl Oliveira, greeted students at the Pahoa Transfer Station.

Many of the students were impressed to meet the man they hear on the radio. While Oliveira said he didn’t sign any autographs, he did pose for ‘plenty of photos.’

The students viewed seven stations hosted by scientists and experts from the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes (CSAV) and Hawaii Electric Light, in addition to those from the Hawaii County Civil Defense and a cultural practitioner.

Each station featured hands-on activities to engage students, including a video, demonstrations of the speed of the lava and interactive games.

The most poignant moment came when students offered a makana to Pele at the edge of the now-stalled lava flow and talk about their feelings about being at a new school.

After offering their gift, students were able to touch the month-old lava and see that although it has since cooled on the surface, it is still sharp and continues to cool underneath.

To demonstrate the speed of the lava flow, volunteers asked students to shuffle their feet a minute over the length of a few inches, which matches the average speed of the creeping flow.

“You don’t have to outrun the lava, you can outwalk it,” said Don Thomas, director for UH-Hilo’s CSAV.

They also got a look at one of the HELCO poles buffered from the lava using a combination of thermal insulation around the wooden poles, then creating a retaining wall around the poles using concrete and wire fencing filled with cinder.

Oliveira said it was important to allow students whose schools were affected first access to the new lava.

“Some may have a difficult time, so we are trying to reach the kids and hopefully they can walk away feeling more comfortable about the disruption in their lives,” Oliveira said. “We don’t realize how intuitive kids are. They asked great, thoughtful questions. They’re so smart. It was very encouraging.”

Two former Keonepoko students who relocated to Pahoa Elementary described the field trip as “awesome.”

“I found it interesting because we got to meet the Civil Defense people and see what they did for us when it came to access roads in case the lava came,” one student said.

Another said: “We got to see Pele today, and take pictures of Pele, and see how the lava affected Apaa Street.”

“This lava flow has changed the lives of many people in Puna, and we wanted to make sure the school children who were most directly affected by the lava were among the first members of the public to visit the flow and see it up close,” Mayor Billy Kenoi said. “This is an opportunity for these students to learn about the awesome power of the volcanoes that formed our island and continue to shape it, and they will remember this experience for many years to come.”

Kenoi continued: “We are very proud of these children, and proud of their resilience as their families and their community continue to deal with this challenge.”

Following the student field trip, county and USGS officials conducted a tour of media members. This was the first time Apaa Street was opened to allow photographs and video shot by an independent source; previously, all images were distributed by the county or by USGS.

With a dozen or more hens and roosters still pecking about, the transfer station stands empty, guarding against the month-old lava that trickled through the chicken-wire fence.

On the other side of Apaa Street, a red-roofed carport pokes above the lava. Immediately behind it are the remains of the lone house that was devoured when this portion of the flow was taking aim at Pahoa Village.

As the lava initially spread across the road blacktop, it was only a few inches deep. Now, the black mound rises 10-12 feet above the ground. In the afternoon sunshine, it doesn’t feel any hotter than any other asphalt, but it crunches under foot and is razor sharp.

There is a faint smell of sulfur, which the geologist guide said is typical for new and cooling lava.

Meanwhile, the main flow from Kilauea’s June 27th eruption stalled last month just yards from Pahoa Village Road and just feet from the transfer station after it breached the fence.

However, a breakout upslope still is active and could reach the Highway 130-Pahoa Village Road intersection before year’s end. The outbreak – 2.3 miles upslope – was declared to be the leading edge of the flow Dec. 1 and is moving 100-400 yards in a northerly direction each day.

Through the weekend, the flow was burning through wet vegetation as a result of recent rain, so brush fires are not a concern at this time.

Field Trip: Puna Lava Flow viewing with Pahoa Elementary

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