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Weird Ways People Have Tried To Stop Lava

People living near volcanoes have tried a lot of different methods to redirect lava flows

(Sergey Gorshkov/Minden Pictures/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

While Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano is getting most of the media attention these days, other volcanos are still erupting all over the world, including Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano, which has been spewing lava since June 27. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory estimates that the lava could reach the outskirts of a residential area called the Kaohe Homesteads in about 36 hours and cut off a major roadway within a few weeks. 

So, what to do? Currently, residents in the subdivision are simply being asked to wait and listen for an evacuation order if the lava flow heads towards town. For now, the lava flow in Hawaii is progressing through dense forest, leaving a black, burned trail through the thick vegetation. But even though the lava flow is encroaching on places where people live, there are no plans to divert the lava flow. In fact, many people who live in Hawaii object to any diversions of the lava. Some cite traditional beliefs that diversions go against the will of Pele, the goddess of volcanos, and others worry that diverting the lava could instead steer the scorching flow to other towns.     

But it wasn’t always like that. Back in 1935, an eruption of lava from Mauna Loa began threatening the city of Hilo, and in an effort to divert the flow, a young George Patton ordered an area near the lava flow bombed in an effort to divert the flow.  Whether or not the bombing worked is still a matter of debate, as the eruption stopped less than a week later. Additional bombing runs on Mauna Loa occurred in 1942, and the Air Force did experimental bombing runs on Mauna Loa in the 1970s.

Even today, some communities in volcanically active areas attempt to redirect lava flows, as the BBC reports. People living near Mount Etna have been trying to redirect lava flows since 1669, digging trenches, building concrete barriers, and even using explosives to keep lava away from towns. But just like the bombing run of Patton, whether or not those methods would have held if the eruptions had continued is still a matter of speculation. 

According to the BBC, one of the more successful efforts happened in the Icelandic town of Vestmannaeyjar in 1973 which used water cannons to pump billions of gallons of water onto the approaching lava to save the town. The effort lasted for months, and though the volcano destroyed part of the island town, the people managed to save the island’s only harbor

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