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Family headstone spared by lava in Hawaii cemetery

November 4, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) — As a volcano’s slow-moving lava approached a cemetery in a rural Hawaii town, Aiko Sato placed flowers at the headstone of the family plot she’s tended over the years, thinking it would be the last time she would see it.

“I made peace with myself,” Sato said Monday of visiting the Pahoa Japanese Cemetery on Oct. 23. A few days later, when lava smothered part of the cemetery, the family believed the headstone was covered.

But a photo taken Oct. 28 by a scientist documenting the lava’s progress showed the headstone engraved with the Sato name standing in a sea of black lava.

“I feel like it’s a miracle,” Sato, 63, said. “I know subsequent breakouts could cover the grave, but at least I know it survived like a first round.”

The lava’s flow front stalled over the weekend.

Sato’s aunt, Eiko Kajiyama, 83, said she was heartbroken when she heard lava covered the cemetery. When she got the photo from the scientist, she hugged and thanked him, she recalled.

The Hawaii Volcano Observatory normally wouldn’t release such photos out of respect for the family of the deceased but provided the Sato family with a copy after a chance encounter between the family and an observatory scientist, observatory spokeswoman Janet Babb said in a statement.

Kajiyama said it feels like Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, spared the headstone. “We’re so thankful we know the tomb is still there.” Her sister and brother, who died as infants, are buried there, along with the urns of her parents.

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Associated Press writer Alina Hartounian contributed to this report.

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