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Relentless Volcano Finally Shuts Down Beach Town

May 4, 1990

KALAPANA, Hawaii (AP) _ Seven years after it began gobbling homes, creeping lava from the Kilauea Volcano cut through the heart of this beach town today, threatening the general store and forcing congregants to move a church.

A swift-moving finger of lava barely bypassed the Kalapana Store and Drive- In and came to within little more than 100 yards of the Star of the Sea Church before it was loaded onto a flatbed truck for transfer to a safer place.

Workers had to use a bulldozer to raise a corner of the foundation after the historic church, known as the ″painted church″ because of the brightly colored murals inside, refused to budge.

County civil defense chief Harry Kim said the church would be taken a mile out of town, where homes evacuated from Kalapana sit. Church officials have yet to decide where to relocate the church.

Earlier, he had said that efforts to move the church were delayed because authorities were busy tending to three homes full of belongings that the lava unexpectedly cut off.

Civil defense officials kept worried and grieving residents at a safe distance today. The officials had sealed off the community Thursday as the lava flow headed directly for the center of town.

″It is a community coming to death,″ the church’s Sister Mary Helen said. ″The immediate loss is a loss of community. Something we’ve loved all through the years is going.″

At the heart of the community since 1963 was the store and drive-in owned by 82-year-old Walter Yamaguchi, who cleaned off shelves and stopped serving hot foods under an order to close.

Jim Halpin, who lived in the Kalapana Gardens subdivision for nearly six years and watched his home destroyed last week, said he would move back as soon as officials let people return, something that could take years because the lava has to cool.

He stopped at Yamaguchi’s store to say goodbye.

″Walter’s like everybody’s uncle,″ he said. ″I came to say goodbye and get that last container of chocolate milk.″

Two homes were destroyed Thursday, bringing to 131 the number burned since Kilauea started its present eruption Jan. 3, 1983. No more homes were destroyed by the unpredictable flow by early today.

George Hook, owner of a construction company that offered to relocate the church for free, said it will be taken to a clearing just outside of town and remain there until church officials decide on a new location.

Members of another church, Kalapana Mauna Kea Congregational Church, across from Star of the Sea, voted not to relocate, saying to do so would nullify their faith in God.

″If we move it, it will defeat the whole purpose of our Christian faith,″ said Bernice McKeague, church moderator. ″Our people will be here to watch it go. This tiny church is a witness to the world because the foundation is strong and we stand on that foundation.″

This morning lava was abutting a rock wall surrounding the church, and authorities told the congregation they could not go inside. ″The book is closed. We open a new book today,″ McKeague said.

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