Many people on the Big Island of the US state of Hawaii are bracing for major upheaval if lava from Mauna Loa volcano slides across a key road and blocks the quickest route connecting two sides of the island.
The molten rock could make the road impassable and force drivers to find alternate coastal routes in the north and south.
That could add hours to commute times, doctor’s visits and lorry deliveries.
“I am very nervous about it being cut off,” said Frank Manley, a licensed practical nurse whose commute is already an hour and 45 minutes each way from his home in Hilo to a Kaiser Permanente clinic in Kailua-Kona.
If the road closes, he anticipates driving two-and-a-half to three hours in each direction.
Mr Manley fears he might lose pay if an accident or other traffic disruption along an alternate route delays his arrival.
The lava is oozing slowly at a rate that might reach the road next week.
But its path is unpredictable and could change course, or the flow could stop completely and spare the road.
The slow-moving flow was coursing about 2.7 miles from the road Friday, US Geological Survey scientists reported.
There are more affordable housing options on the island’s east side, home to the county seat, Hilo.
But many jobs at beach resorts, in construction and other industries are readily available on the west side, where Kailua-Kona is located.
Saddle Road, also known as Route 200 or Daniel K Inouye Highway, connects the two communities.
The state Department of Transportation took steps Thursday to remove potential traffic obstacles on the northern coastal route by reopening a lane across Nanue Bridge that was closed for repairs.
Hilo also is one of the island’s major harbours, where a wide variety of goods arrive by ship before proceeding across the island by truck.
Hawaii County Councilor Susan “Sue” L. K. Lee Loy, who represents Hilo and parts of Puna, said she is concerned about big lorries travelling across aging coastal bridges.
“It’s going to take a lot to rethink how we move about on Hawaii Island,” she said.