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Kilauea lava could destroy Hawaiian homes any minute now

A volcano on the island of Hawaii is threatening a town and could destroy its first home within hours, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said late Monday.

Molten lava from the Kilauea volcano on the state’s Big Island is moving as fast as 20 yards per hour, threatening a home some 70 yards away. Amid evacuations, a school in the flow’s potential path is preparing to close and a main road has been restricted to one-way travel out of the town of Pahoa, a community of nearly 1,000 people.

Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira estimated that up to 60 structures will be threatened. A local business owner told CNN some of the abandoned homes and businesses are being looted, and a car dealer has moved his vehicles to the other side of the lava flow.

“I’m just leaving a couple of [all-terrain vehicles] down on the side of my business. In case we’re cut off,” Mike Hale told CNN. “And if we are cut off, it will be a huge disaster.”

An elementary school possibly in the lava flow’s path will shut down Wednesday indefinitely. As a precaution, other schools in the area will also close, and a clinic is preparing a mobile medical unit to reach those who get cut off by the lava.

But lava is unpredictable. In June, Kilauea, which has spewed molten lava since 1983, began threatening Pahoa. The flow is inconsistent, speeding up, slowing down and changing direction as the fiery red tide creeps northeast.

(Animated GIF by Nick Kirkpatrick/The Washington Post – Video by Reuters)

On Saturday, authorities knocked on doors, telling residents to get ready to evacuate. The next day, lava buried a Buddhist cemetery less than a mile from Pahoa Village Road, which runs through downtown. Residents have been advised — but not ordered — to evacuate. The Red Cross Hawaii has set up a shelter for those with nowhere to go.

Officials said smoke may become an issue for those downwind, and methane explosions were reported over the weekend. Decomposing vegetation produces methane gas, which can ignite.

A blast occurred close to where Janet Babb, spokesman for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, was standing. “It was such a rumble, I thought it was thunder and that we were about to be struck by lightning,” she told the Associated Press.

(Animated GIF by Nick Kirkpatrick/The Washington Post – Video by Reuters)

Officials are closely monitoring the lava as Pahoa and surrounding communities ponder possible destruction. A resident told the Weather Channel it could become a problem for nearby towns that rely on Pahoa for groceries, gas and medical services. Those with medical conditions have been advised to leave.

However, Oliveira said residents in the lava flow’s direct path will be permitted to watch it destroy their homes to “provide for a means of closure.”

“You can only imagine the frustration as well as … despair they’re going through,” he said.

Some turned to a higher power.

“We are still praying,” said Imelda Raras, whose home is threatened. “I hope our home will be spared.”