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Why did the lava cross the road? To flow into the ocean (duh!).
The local vehicle code clearly states: All traffic yields to oncoming lava flows, period.

As for the church (and the gendarmerie, the other big building in the village), the lava flow being very slow and viscous, when faced with an obstacle, tends to get around it and rejoin downstream. It didn't exactly miss the church: if you look at the pictures on the Fournaise Info and the ENS-Lyon pages, taken in the immediate aftermath, the lava did clog the main entrances to the buildings, but the bulk essentially went around, following the path of least resistance. When I first visited in the 80s, the place didn't look much different than the pictures from 1977 (it was maybe 5 or 6 years after the eruption); the church has been cleaned up and restored afterward and as you can see, vegetation has fully recovered over the fertile lava.

by Bernard on Sat Nov 5th, 2011 at 05:18:36 PM EST
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