Lava: A painfully slow death

October 31, 2014

Pahoa, United States

By Marco Garcia

Lava is unpredictable. It could go left or right, up or down. It will move 5 metres in an hour, then not move at all. And it usually moves slowly, like squeezing toothpaste down a hill – but it will get there eventually. Unlike a tsunami or an earthquake or even a hurricane, it’s a painfully slow death.

Construction crews try divert lava from Mt. Kilauea from a home in the village of Pahoa, Hawaii

You never realize just how close you are to it. When I first arrived, I saw black smoke billowing not so far in the distance – the lava had struck a pile of car tires. When it burns, it’s quite amazing. It’s mesmerising.

I live in Hawaii so I’m very familiar with Big Island. What’s unique about it is that it’s always changing because of the fact that the volcano is constantly erupting. But this is also a very unique tragedy.

The lava is running through the village of Pahoa, so within the next few weeks it could be split in two. On the one side you have restaurants and businesses, while the other is mainly residential.

Smoke rises from the lava flow from Mt. Kilauea as it  inches closer to the village of Pahoa, Hawaii

The most challenging part of shooting the lava is that police keep you away for your own safety. The closest you can get is about 200 metres, so after getting approval from the Civil Defence authority, we hired a helicopter and flew above it.

I asked the pilot to follow the path of the lava back to the crater and it was quite amazing to watch the lava flow. There’s a lot of steam and smoke and you can see some lava being created inside the crater, which looks like a bubbling cauldron. It’s so primitive it’s almost as if the world is being created – I found myself looking for dinosaurs!

Smoke rises from the  Pu'u O'o vent on the Kilauea Volcano

Back on the ground, there’s intense sadness among the community because people here know their village will be destroyed but no one knows when. They’re distraught. Everything will be gone and there’s nothing they can do about it – they can’t build a wall, or dig a hole, or pray. The lava will destroy everything and all they can do is watch. 

Residents and onlookers look out towards the area where the lava flow from the Kilauea volcano has reached the town in Pahoa, Hawaii

A native Hawaiian told me they believe the volcano is a goddess and she is taking back what belongs to her. They live on her land and she is taking it back. They see it as a part of life.

Others try to keep their spirits high whatever happens. Walking around the village I saw a heart-shaped sign above a chiropractor. It simply read: “We’re staying.”

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