Star of the Sea Church was moved as a lava flow burned through the heart of this picturesque beach town Friday, more than seven years after Kilauea Volcano began its latest eruption.
The flow picked up speed and advanced more than 200 yards overnight, but so far it has bypassed the Kalapana Store and Drive-Inn and the Kalapana Mauna Kea Congregational Church.
The lava was moving behind both structures, and was beginning to rise along the Congregational church's wall that abutted a meeting hall. But civil defense officials said they were more concerned about three homes in danger of being cut off from road access before residents could remove their belongings.
The wooden Roman Catholic Church--also called "the painted church"--slowly made its way on a trailer down Beach Road, which crews had cleared of utility poles and overhanging tree branches.
An elderly native Hawaiian woman pleaded with workers and civil defense officials not to move the church. Church officials decided last week to save its hand-painted wall murals.
Workers toiled throughout the night to prepare the church for relocation. It was trucked about a mile out of town, where it will stay until church officials decide where to move it.
At the other threatened church, Kalapana Mauna Kea, civil defense officials ordered members who had spent the night in the building to evacuate Friday morning.
"The book is closed. We open a new book today," said Bernice McKeague, the church moderator.
The congregation held a prayer vigil Thursday night and watched as the lava built up in a gully behind it. Long before the present flow arrived, church members voted never to move the church, saying it would be hypocritical of their faith.
The Congregational church, originally built along the seashore in 1823, was destroyed by an earthquake, tidal wave and lava in 1868.
The earthquake sunk the land the church was located on, and a few years later it was rebuilt at the site where Star of the Sea church had been. Erosion prompted the congregation to move again across the street to its present location, the church moderator said.
So far, Walter Yamaguchi, owner of the Kalapana Store and Drive-Inn since 1963, has been correct in maintaining that his store would be spared.
He has been making daily offerings to the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele.
"Madame Pele will never take me," the 82-year-old Yamaguchi said.
He added that he left some supplies in the store to sell once he is allowed to open again.
Of increasing concern to authorities is the threat to public health when the lava begins to flow into the ocean, which it eventually will do if it continues its present path. When lava hits the water, it creates sulfuric acid, a harmful toxic substance known in volcano country as "laze."