US & Canada

Hawaii lava destroys first home in Pahoa

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Media captionIt took about 45 minutes for the house in Pahoa, Big Island, to burn down

A stream of lava that has been creeping towards a Hawaii town for months has now destroyed one of the houses.

It set the home on fire just before noon on Monday, said Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira.

Tenants living in the house in Pahoa, Big Island, had already left, he said, and it took about 45 minutes for the 1,100-square-foot home to burn down.

The lava from Kilauea volcano entered the town two weeks ago and has smothered a cemetery and two sheds.

Many residents have evacuated or have been preparing to leave.

Officials have said they would assist in arrangements for homeowners to watch their homes burn as a means of closure and to photograph the destruction for insurance purposes.

The front of the molten rock is about 480ft (145m) from the town's main street.

Image copyright AP
Image caption A small shed burned down two weeks ago

Can you stop lava?

At temperatures of about 1,000C, lava destroys whatever it touches. Its path is notoriously hard to predict.

The ability to impede or redirect lava largely depends on location, resources and luck.

Decades ago in Hawaii, the US attempted to bomb a lava flow, only to see the bomb craters refill. In Iceland, crews made use of billions of gallons of cold water around a nearby harbour to cool the lava in place. And barriers along Mount Etna in Italy redirected a flow away from a tourist area. But these attempts have been helped by a natural slowing or halting of lava eruptions.

"You have to be in a wealthy country with a lot at stake to even consider" lava diversion, Dr Shannon Nawotniak told the BBC, particularly given the volume of volcanic eruptions and the potential costs.

"You might buy yourself some time until the volcano stops itself."

How do you stop the flow of lava?

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