Hawaii continues facing aftermath of volcano

Community support efforts continue supporting Hawaiian citizens who suffered during the Kilauea volcanic activity in May. The lava flow destroyed dozens of homes, the Boston Globe reported, including those of Leilani Estates.

Lava Flowing (Pexels/Brent Keane)

Residents evacuated the neighborhood on May 6, and the mandatory evacuation order ended September 8.

“We live about 30 miles from where the eruption was taking place,” said Hawaii resident Julie Taomia. “We felt some of the earthquakes, but they didn’t damage our house. I know people who lost their houses. I know people who had to move out, even if they didn’t necessarily lose their houses. Housing was hard to find. We had people at work who were coming in right about the same time and trying to find housing, and they had a difficult time because all these people were being displaced. There have been a lot of people pulling together to help each other out.”

Pu’u Honua o Puna started as a way to help people that lost their homes and possessions to the lava.

“An organization developed very quickly, called Pu’u Honua o Puna,” Taomia said. “In traditional Hawaiian culture, Pu’u Honua is a place of refuge; a place to go to where it’s agreed upon that you’re safe, so that’s the concept that they had with this. It was a place for people get help, and they were very active in keeping people informed about where they could go for assistance. They were also taking donations of everything, from food to clothing, for people.”

Local business involvement also contributed to relief efforts.

“Businesses were asking people to donate, and they would match funds if they donated money,” Taomia said. “Some car dealerships were saying that for every car sold, they would donate x, y or z to the Pu’u Honua o Puna, which really became a centralizing, coordinating entity for a lot of donations.”

Evacuated residents lived in temporary shelters while awaiting housing. Donors offered plots of land to construct new homes.

“We had one private land owner and one church that donated land to build little micro housing units on for people to move into,” Taomia said. “The one was right next to the Catholic church in Pahoa village — which is the village closest to where the eruptions were taking place. Their housing was completed a month or so ago, and people moved in. That was on property nearby a church, but the other one is further away from Pahoa. It’s kind of near there, but not actually in the town. Their housing units were supposed to be done about a month ago, but because of the hurricanes that we’ve had, the construction was delayed, so they’re about to finish those up. They still have families that will move in there, because houses were destroyed. Even though all the shelters have been closed — the last shelter closed [September 18] at noon — there are still people who lost their houses.”

Potentially lethal levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2), a gas released during volcanic activity, escaped during eruptions. The lasting effects of the gas remain a concern for citizens.

“When the wind blew, we would get really strong volcanic gases,” Taomia said. “At work, a lot of people who work with me spend a lot of time out in the field, hiking over rough terrain and sometimes over some somewhat steep terrain. We were concerned about the effects of the SO2 and other volcanic gases on them. Just last week, we had a meeting with people from Oahu who’d come over to follow up on conversations we had with them a couple months ago about the SO2 and the volcanic gases, and monitoring people’s exposure and knowing when it gets lethal. We had days that were really bad, so we called everyone in from the field, and considered what to do from there. It’s hard, because where do you send people from work? You send them home, and for most of us, that meant closer to the volcano, closer to the gases.”

The Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park closed in May, when the volcanic activity and earthquakes began, but aims to reopen by September 22 to celebrate National Public Lands Day.

The park contains the Kilauea volcano, as well as the Halemaʻumaʻu and Puʻu ʻŌʻō craters, which previously held a lava lake and lava flows, respectively. After the eruptions, both emptied, and the park no longer contains any visible lava.

According to The New York Times, the 333,000-acre park takes up 13 percent of the island’s land, and rarely closes. The National Parks Service website states that the park continues undergoing inspections and emergency repairs to roads and buildings to prepare for reopening.

 Park employees were unavailable for contact via email or phone call.

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