It was a chaotic Wednesday morning at Pahoa Marketplace as shoppers scrambled to purchase last-minute items before the community’s main grocery store closes Thursday in preparation for the slow-moving lava flow that could ooze into the shopping area next week.
“It’s madness,” said David Gradwohl, an employee at Pahoa Battery and Propane, also located in the marketplace.
Gradwohl spent much of the morning directing traffic in the marketplace’s packed parking lot, where some cars doubled parked and drivers still waiting for parking spaces circled the scene.
A few doors down, Abby Petersen, an employee at a local boutique called Jungle Love, chatted with grim-faced customers about the stressful situation and what life might be like for residents once the market closes.
“Everybody is on edge. Everybody is stressed out and freaking out,” Petersen said. “Even if the lava stops, the damage has already been done.”
A nearby gas station that closed last night was surrounded by yellow tape while workers were pumping the remaining fuel out of the tanks.
Lava could reach the Pahoa Marketplace and Highway 130 in five days if the flow maintains its speed and path, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists said.
Lava advanced another 220 yards since Tuesday and was about .9 miles upslope from the shopping center and the intersection of Pahoa Village Road and Highway 130, Hawaii County Civil Defense said after a Wednesday morning overflight.
The U.S. Geological Survey observatory issued a Volcanic Activity Notice Tuesday night, warning that the flow was moving at an average rate of 310 yards a day since Dec. 9 and that the steepest descent path leads to the Pahoa Marketplace.
Since the new lava flow broke off from the main flow near an underground crack system, the lava’s advance rate has varied from about 110 yards a day to more than 490 yards in a day, averaging 330 yards a day.
The flow front widened Tuesday and took a slight turn to the north, but is still expected to follow the steepest descent path to the intersection of Pahoa Village Road and Highway 130 near the Pahoa Marketplace, geologists said Wednesday.
Civil Defense officials said the lava does not pose an immediate threat to residents, but noted that businesses in the Pahoa Marketplace “are taking necessary steps to prepare for a possible evacuation.”
The co-owner of the shopping center said all her tenants have an evacuation plan.
Suzanne Kruppa told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald people considered building a berm around the shopping center. But concerns a berm would divert the flow to someone else’s property prevented them from pursuing it. She says nobody wants the liability.
A gas station, Malama Mart Gas N Go, in the projected path of lava shut down Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Aloha Petroleum, which co-owns the gas station, said a contractor will remove fuel and residual fuel vapors from underground storage tanks over the next three days. It will also remove equipment that has the potential to be reused or potentially reinstalled if the lava flow bypasses the station.
The company is still determining what further steps it may take, said Caroline Witherspoon, a spokeswoman for Aloha Petroleum.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira has said gas stations in the path of the flow would fill their tanks with water and firefighting foam after shutting down.
Meanwhile, an area for viewing cooled lava opened in Pahoa on Wednesday.
Representatives from the University of Hawaii at Hilo geology department and the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes will be on hand for the next few days to answer questions.
Public access at the Pahoa Recycling and Transfer Station, where lava oozed through a fence and onto asphalt in November, will be allowed from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
‘The access will be limited to the transfer station and nearby Apaa Street, where lava crossed the road in October. Apaa is a paved, two-lane road and the county has created a parking and traffic plan in anticipation of an influx of visitors.