It may be months before lava subsides for cleanup
Nature’s tantrum continues as volcano blows more ash skyward
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.