Lava inched closer to homes in Pahoa, Hawaii, on Monday evening, spurring the evacuation of residents living in the direct path of the molten mass gushing from the Big Island’s most active volcano.
Authorities and Pahoa residents have been nervously watching the lava coming from the nearby volcano Kilauea for months, since a fresh flow started moving northeast toward the tiny town of 900 earlier this summer.
One official told TIME that locals were taking the necessary precautions in case widespread evacuations are ordered. Over the weekend, residents living in close proximity to the lava flow packed their possessions into trailers in preparation.
As of Monday evening, the lava flow was within 70 yards of the nearest home, according to a statement released by the County Civil Defense Agency.
“Residents in the flow path were placed on an evacuation advisory and notified of possible need for evacuation beginning last night,” read the report.
Local officials continued to fret over the possibility that the lava may eventually cut into nearby Highway 130. The road serves as the major transportation thoroughfare in and out of the town and is used by approximately 8,000 to 10,000 commuters a day. As a precaution, county authorities have opened two auxiliary roads in the area.
Earlier in the day, reports of small-scale looting in the remote community began to surface. “Crime is starting to pick up because a lot of people abandoned their houses. Two of my brother-in-laws’ houses got ripped off,” Matt Purvis, an owner of a local bakery, told CNN.
Late last week, Hawaii’s Governor Neil Abercrombie penned an official request for a presidential disaster declaration, which would provide the state with federal assistance to bolster local emergency services.