It may be months be­fore lava sub­sides for cleanup

Na­ture’s tantrum con­tin­ues as vol­cano blows more ash sky­ward

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Trevor Hughes

PA­HOA, Hawaii – Big Is­land res­i­dents whose homes have been de­stroyed and neigh­bor­hoods filled with lava face a long road to re­cov­ery that can’t be­gin un­til the vol­cano cools off.

The lava leak­ing from Ki­lauea has forced the evac­u­a­tion of nearly 2,000 peo­ple and de­stroyed at least 36 struc­tures, in­clud­ing 26 homes in the ru­ral Leilani Es­tates neigh­bor­hood area about 35 miles from Hilo, the is­land’s largest city.

Two weeks af­ter cracks be­gan open­ing be­neath the area, the lava shows no sign of stop­ping. Ki­lauea erupted again Thurs­day, blast­ing a plume of ash and de­bris 30,000 feet into the air and putting Big Is­land res­i­dents on fur­ther no­tice that a big­ger blast could be per­co­lat­ing in the volatile crater.

Res­i­dents ea­ger to re­turn to their homes in Leilani Es­tates, about 25 miles from the crater, have built a tent city at the com­mu­nity cen­ter’s park­ing lots and play­ing fields. Author­i­ties al­low them to check on their homes ev­ery day. They line up each morn­ing and trickle back out in the evening.

There’s no es­ti­mate for when the lava flows will slow or when Ki­lauea will re­turn to its nor­mal low level of ac­tiv­ity, but county of­fi­cials are pre­par­ing for a months-long event.

“We’ve made a home away from home,” said evac­uee Den­nis Gille­spie,

58, as he lounged on a cot in the tent equipped with a propane fire­place, a big-screen TV and a gen­er­a­tor for charg­ing cell­phones. “We ac­cept where we are now, but we are look­ing for­ward to get­ting home.”

No in­juries from the flows had been re­ported, but the lava’s in­ex­orable march across the area demon­strated how pow­er­less hu­mans are when Mother Na­ture re­shapes the land­scape.

Re­cov­ery can be­gin only af­ter the lava cools and hard­ens to a rel­a­tively soft basaltic rock. Those who can af­ford it will hire con­trac­tors with heavy equip­ment to clear the hard­ened lava.

How many roads will be cleared and re­paired re­mains un­cer­tain. In 1990, a sim­i­lar lava flow en­gulfed the nearby town of Kala­pana, de­stroy­ing nearly

200 homes and cov­er­ing the roads lead­ing to them. Some res­i­dents of the area scratched bumpy tracks across the lava flow to reach their homes, but most peo­ple never re­built.

In Leilani Es­tates, few of the homes are elab­o­rate, although all are beloved. Most are sin­gle-story struc­tures fit­ted with so­lar pan­els and rain-catch­ing sys­tems since there’s no mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter sup­ply in the area.

Tiny homes are pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially be­cause clear­ing larger lots is such a back­break­ing process: Aside from hav­ing to gouge out holes for sep­tic sys­tems, home­own­ers must bat­tle back the jun­gle that closes in, fire ants in tow.

“I think they know and un­der­stand ... that Madame Pele de­cides who will be im­pacted,” Gov. David Ige said, re­fer­ring to the Hawai­ian vol­cano goddess.

In the heart of the Leilani Es­tates, the lava has flowed over streets at depths up to 20 feet. In other ar­eas, huge gul­lies and chasms have split roads painstak­ingly cut through the thick jun­gle.

“I just planted flow­ers,” res­i­dent Dana Dono­van said, throw­ing her arms into the air.

April Bux­ton has re­moved most of her valu­ables from her home, although she re­fuses to empty it en­tirely. That, she said, would be invit­ing trou­ble from the vol­cano goddess.

“I’m not giv­ing up my house to Pele. In my mind, if I empty it, she’ll take it. And if it goes, I’ll lose every­thing.”


Or­lando Cor­puz of the Hawai­ian Air Na­tional Guard sig­nals a sul­fur diox­ide read­ing of zero.

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