Hawaii volcano erupts: They watched their homes burn

They looked on helpless as slow-moving lava from an erupting volcano slowly destroyed their home in Hawaii.

The molten rock hit the house at around midday on Monday. By then, its residents had already left the house in Pahoa, the largest town in Big Island's isolated and mostly agricultural Puna district.

It took about 40 minutes for the lava to burn down the house, Hawaii County civil defence director Darryl Oliveira told CBS News. It is the only residence to be destroyed by the eruption of Kilauea so far.

The lava from the volcano entered Pahoa late last month when it crossed a country road at the edge of the town. Since then, the lava has smothered part of a cemetery and burned down a garden shed. It has also burned tyres, metal materials and vegetation in its path.

Firefighters will basically let a structure burn, but will fight any fires that spread or threaten other structures, Mr Oliveira said.

Videos posted online by authorities show a crackling, charcoal-coloured carpet of lava enveloping the area around the house in question as flames and thick smoke engulfed the single-storey, wood-panelled building, causing it to collapse, Reuters reported.

Officials said they are arranging for home owners to watch any homes burn as a means of closure and to document the destruction for insurance purposes.


Many people in the area have evacuated or are ready to leave if necessary.

Ms Imelda Raras lives on the other end of street from where the lava burned the first house.

"I'm scared," Ms Raras said as she watched smoke from the burning house. "What will happen next? We will be waiting. I think our lives will be unstable and I hope our house will be spared."

She and her family have put most of their belongings in storage and are prepared to seek refuge in a friend's home if the lava gets too close.

But Ms Raras said they will leave with heavy hearts, adding: "It's hard to leave your own house. It's one of the hardest things to do."

The flow of lava now menacing Pahoa began bubbling out of the volcano's Pu'u O'o vent on June 27. It has crept a distance of about 22km since.

The leading edge of the lava can reach temperatures of over 1,100 deg C.

This article was first published on Nov 13, 2014.
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