Divided by lava

Divided by lava


The lava flow from the Kilauea volcano has slithered toward the Big Island town of Pahoa, threatening to destroy homes and cut off a road and a highway running through it.

The volcano has erupted from its Pu'u O' vent since 1983. The last home destroyed by lava on the Big Island was at the Royal Gardens subdivision in Katakana in 2012, according to Big Island Civil Defence.

. PAHOA, United States. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

Pahoa residents look out towards the area where the lava flow from the Kilauea volcano has reached the town.

A slow-moving river of molten lava from the erupting volcano crept over residential and farm property on Hawaii's Big Island after incinerating an outbuilding as it threatened dozens of homes at the edge of the former plantation town.

. PAHOA, United States. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

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

The lava flow from the volcano has been slogging towards the town of Pahoa, moving at speeds of 10 to 15 yards (metres) an hour as it bubbled over a cemetery and reached the community's outskirts.

"When it burns, it's quite amazing. It's mesmerising."
Marco Garcia, Reuters Photographer

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.

You never realise 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 town 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.

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!

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.

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.”

. PAHOA, United States. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

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