Honolulu: Call it a holiday gift from Pele.
Lava from the mountain believed to be home to the Hawaiian volcano goddess has stalled on its slow creep toward a Big Island shopping center.
Officials had been worried that the lava would hit Pahoa Marketplace on or around Christmas, but civil defense administrator Darryl Oliveira said Tuesday that the lava's leading edge had stopped about 700 yards (640 meters) from the shopping center, which has a supermarket, gas station and other stores.
"I think the merchants are seeing some relief with this," Oliveira said. "Hopefully this is an indication of a change in the flow."
The lava front appears to have hardened and hasn't advanced since Monday, but it's unclear whether the molten rock has stopped or is just stalled, Oliveira said. Several shops had closed down in advance of what seemed like impending disaster, but a handful of restaurants and stores remained open.
"Somebody told me it's a Christmas miracle," said Becky Petersen, owner of Jungle Love, as she helped customers in her clothing boutique in the shopping center. "I don't know what it is. I know it's a real blessing."
Another part of Pahoa was spared in November when a different branch of the lava stalled instead of crossing a major road, which would have made it difficult for many residents to get out to the rest of the island.
But a new branch of lava about 300 yards (275 meters) upslope is still active, and could eventually surpass the stalled rock near the marketplace and become the new front, Oliveira said. That upslope breakout is moving south of the current flow front so it may take a different path, he added.
The fact that the lava is still branching out upslope means the volcano is still very active, and only the tip of the lava has stalled, said Steven Brantley, a scientist from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Petersen is hoping the recent stall means Pahoa will be spared, although she assumes the lava will start to ooze down the mountain again, even if it trickles along a different path.
"We're hoping everybody's coming back here and can have a life again," she said, referring to the stores that closed....