Speed Reads

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Hawaii will let homeowners watch lava slowly destroy their own houses

This may be the slowest natural disaster in history: After 31 years of eruptions, a lava flow from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano that started in June has almost arrived at its first house. The slow-moving flow — anywhere from 2 to 20 yards per hour, depending on topography — has plowed over a cemetery, destroyed a shed at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, and will probably burn through its first house in the next day or so. About 40 to 50 houses in the Big Island village of Pahoa, some 20 miles south of Hilo, are in the path of the lava and its 2,000 degree heat.

Residents of Pahoa have been clearing the homes of prized possessions for weeks now, and many will be encouraged to evacuate soon — the main road connecting the village of 9,000 to the rest of the island is expected to be covered by molten lava some time soon. "Entire families have been raised in these homes," says Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira. "It's a very difficult thing for them to see this happening, and if we can accommodate them in any way for the grieving process, we will want to do that if it's safe."

One way of facilitating the grieving will be allowing residents to stay on their property to watch their homes being destroyed by Kilauea's molten river. "It helps a person come to grips with the reality of the situation," Oliveira says. "I found it to be oddly comforting in a really strange way." --Peter Weber