Hawaiian Cultural Influences on Support for Lava Flow Hazard Mitigation Measures During the January 1960 Eruption of KīLauea Volcano, Kapoho, Hawai'I

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In 1960, Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii erupted, destroying most of the village of Kapoho and forcing evacuation of its approximately 300 residents. A large and unprecedented social science survey was undertaken during the eruption to develop an understanding of human behavior, beliefs, and coping strategies among the adult evacuees (n = 160). Identical studies were also performed in three control towns located at varying distances from the eruption site (n = 478). During these studies data were collected that characterized ethnic grouping and attitudes toward Hawaiian cultural issues such as belief in Pele and two lava flow mitigation measures-use of barriers and bombs to influence the flow of lava, but the data were never published. Using these forgotten data, we examined the relationship between Hawaiian cultural issues and attitudes toward the use of barriers and bombs as mitigation strategies to protect Kapoho. On average, 72% of respondents favored the construction of earthen barriers to hold back or divert lava and protect Kapoho, but far fewer agreed with the military's use of bombs (14%) to protect Kapoho. In contrast, about one-third of respondents conditionally agreed with the use of bombs. It is suggested that local participation in the bombing strategy may explain the increased conditional acceptance of bombs as a mitigation tool, although this can not be conclusively demonstrated. Belief in Pele and being of Hawaiian ethnicity did not reduce support for the use of barriers, but did reduce support for bombs in both bombing scenarios. The disparity in levels of acceptance of barriers versus bombing and of one bombing strategy versus another suggests that historically public attitudes toward lava flow hazard mitigation strategies were complex. A modern comparative study is needed before the next damaging eruption to inform debates and decisions about whether or not to interfere with the flow of lava. Recent changes in the current eruption of Kīlauea make this a timely topic.