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Our volcanic society

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By John Pawlak

In the movies, volcanic eruptions are dazzling in their ability to take people by surprise. Filming an eruption like Pompeii would be rather boring. In a matter of minutes, everyone is choked to death by a massive onslaught of volcanic dust. End of story.

It’s much more exciting to see lava flows gushing towards towns as people run for their lives. For about an hour, the lava oozes toward its victims, outracing and engulfing them in horrible (ooh, so spectacular on that big screen) death scenes.

But in the real world, lava flows can last much longer and can be extremely slow. In 1983, Kilauea Volcano (on the island of Hawaii) erupted. This eruption did not cease an hour later. It’s still erupting today and very slowly.

By 1990, the Kilauea lava flow had buried

43 square miles of land and was encroaching upon the village of Kalapana. When the villagers realized that they would soon be entombed in molten rock, panic spread and people ran for their lives.

Yes, the lava that had raced toward them for seven years at a breakneck speed of two feet per minute had finally reached them. For many villagers, it was too late and they lost everything. Kalapana was never known for its long term planning skills.


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