At Home With Lava: Dangerous Homes

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Braving Home

The Lava-Side Inn: Looking for a quaint out-of-the-way bed-and-breakfast? How about Jack Thompson's little Hawaiian inn, located along the path of 2,000-degree lava flowing from Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes?

Thompson, 50, lives on the ruins of Royal Gardens, a suburban housing development abandoned 20 years ago after it was all but engulfed by bubbling molten rock. From above, the 600-acre community now resembles a green island in a reddish-black sea.

Residents were safely evacuated, but Thompson, a former sheet-metal and construction worker, chose to stay. His only connection to the rest of the world: a treacherous crust of freshly formed rock stretched over bubbling lava, which he crosses by foot or motorcycle.

Choking smoke rises from this path and the cracks along the way are more than hot enough to cook a potato or melt your shoe. One misstep or wrong turn can be fatal.

William Shatner is said to be one of a handful of guests who dared to visit the $100-a-night Lava-Side Inn, arriving by helicopter to boldly go where virtually no tourist had gone before.

Thompson supplements his income by offering updates on the lava flow to helicopter companies that run volcano tours.

For several years, Thompson's girlfriend Patty lived with him. Now alone, he notes that the lava is inching closer to his home, causing trees to explode as they're consumed by the molten rock.

Thompson scoffs at comparisons to Harry R.Truman, who famously defied authorities and kept his home at Mount St. Helens until the volcano blew up in 1980, burying him alive. Kilauea is not likely to have such a violent eruption.

Still, like any forlorn homeowner, he asks Halpern, "At what point do you walk away from your life's dream?"

The Underwater Town: If not for a church spire poking through the floodwaters, the small town of Princeville would have all but disappeared in September 1999, when Hurricane Floyd plowed through North Carolina.

When the water receded, 72-year-old Thad Knight defied government warnings and returned to the remnants of his home, which had been swept off its foundation.