So, clearly I have been a bit MIA on this site for some time now. Life at home as a mom and wife has been taking up most of my time. However, just because I have been a bit absent here, doesn’t mean that Hawaii has been absent in my heart or my mind. Mike and I comment regularly to each other in passing that we sure wish were going back to Hawaii for a month THIS year too. (Actually, we are going back– YAY! — but not until after Christmas and only for 10 days.)
But I can’t go another night without getting some thoughts down on what is going down on my favorite island. In fact, Hawaii has been on my mind constantly the past few weeks. As many know, the Big Island has had a rough month. Since May 3rd, the Kilauea volcano has been erupting. Actually, it’s been erupting since 1983. But its continuous eruptions haven’t made the national news until a month ago when hot vapor and spattering lava started to erupt from a crack in the Puna district of the Big Island. Interestingly, events were happening at least a week before this eruption began that gave geologists and volcanologists some clues to suspect that there might be cause for concern. The Pu’u ‘O’o volcanic cone’s crater, in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park collapsed, triggering multiple earthquakes while pushing magma underground into new chambers. Unfortunately, these chambers just happened to be in the East Rift Zone which cuts a straight line through a nice little subdivision of homes called Leilani Estates, as well as Nanawale Estates, both south of Pahoa.
Fast forward 30 days later… Madame Pele continues to deliver her fury. Large fissures, over 20 of them, have been erupting on and off, spouting lava upwards of 250 feet, spewing noxious sulphur dioxide into the air, and ultimately covering over 4 square miles of beautiful lush landscape. Over 200 homes and gardens not just completely destroyed but literally swallowed up by lava flows as high as 15 feet or more. Vegetation missed by the lava, once lush, green, and so treasured by the local kanaka has turned brown and/or yellow. Animals — pets, livestock and wild, have had to fend for themselves or be rescued by loving souls who worry as much for their furry friends as they do their neighbors. An entire community has lost its place and they are struggling just to get through this disaster before figuring out what to do next.
This phenomenon has left me heartbroken for many reasons. First, unlike a flood or a tornado that comes in, does its dirty work and leaves, the lava stays. Once it cools, it is hard, dense and almost impossible to move. Everything in its path is buried. There is literally nothing to clean up; just new earth 15 feet higher that can remain hot for months. Building on top of lava has been done, but this new earth really needs decades or even centuries to become fertile soil again. History has shown that during past eruptions, Hawaiians tried to stop, or at least divert, oncoming lava with bombs or sprays of seawater to no avail. All that these locals can do is get out of its way and watch new earth be born.
Second, while incredibly amazing to witness, the lava flows not only change the landscape but also the traffic patterns. The remote location, terrain, and the small population size of the lower Puna district have restricted the number of access roads, which normally serve as necessary connection points for communities like Kalapana, Kaimu, and Kapoho. Kalapana and Kaimu have lost all but one evacuation route. (Although I literally just read that now USGS is concerned that their one evacuation route, Highway 130 may be lost soon too due to old fissures re-opening.)
(These pictures were taken on Highway 137 a gorgeous road that hugs the coast and connects Kalapana and Kapoho. They were taken near MaKenzie State Park, which has been overrun by lava headed toward the ocean, cutting this highway basically in half. Kalapana and Kapoho residents cannot get to each other too easily anymore. I fear I may never see this view again. )
As of this morning, the last access route for the entire Kapoho community has been blocked by lava. These residents had about 3 days notice to evacuate or else be trapped by the lava. This latest development has been the hardest for me to hear.
If you read about our adventures last July, you might remember that we spent our last week in Kapoho, a quiet community that prefers its amazing night sky over artificial light, roads that flood almost every high tide while children watch the fish struggle back to deeper waters, and of course the most gorgeous sunsets I have EVER seen. The Wai’opae Tidepools, literally across the street from our beautiful rental home, had the best snorkeling I have ever seen. People come from all over the world to swim in these calm warm waters and observe the marine life. But now, I don’t know when those tidepools will welcome visitors again. I don’t know what will happen to all the homes left abandoned, without water or power, for weeks and possibly months. Additionally, it seems that the path the lava will choose toward the ocean will directly hit Kapoho, rather than the barren land north, in which case, so many more homes could be destroyed in the coming days and weeks and we won’t even know until geologists can take a look from the sky. I fear that the tide pools could be gone by this time next week, and I will never get to return to witness this view again.
or this one…
I have had my eyes and ears glued to my trusted news sources, Hawaii News Now and USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory for the latest updates. I also have been become quite fond of Mileka Lincoln and Ikaika Marzo on Facebook.
Mileka is a local reporter and Ikaika is essentially a community organizer. I don’t think he has any sort of official title, but it is clear that the Puna community depends on him for his leadership, his daily updates on the lava flow and his calm, friendly disposition. Ikaika has started a grass roots organization, Pu’uhonua o Puna (which translates to a place of refuge for Puna) to help mobilize supplies and volunteers that support the evacuees. You can check out their Facebook page. It has been amazing to watch this tiny community rally together in the face of such severe challenges.
If you are reading this and are touched like I am, please consider donating to Pu’uhonua o Puna or to other organizations listed below that are currently helping out the evacuees. Because months from now, long after Madame Pele has gone back to rest, this community will still be living in tents or shelters, carving away new streets and new lives among a harsher, rockier, and less forgiving landscape. Hawaiians have been doing that for centuries; now it’s Puna’s turn once again.
Puna Neighborhood Lava Watch Amazon Wish List: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/23QFCHDWG87Z5
Local Organizations and Groups accepting donations: https://www.punalavaflow2018.com/money
Pu‘uhonua O Puna
c/o Ashley Kierkiewicz
2366 Kinoole Street
Hilo, HI 96720
Ryan K Towing
16-366 Railroad Avenue
Kea’au, HI 96749
Or, if you would like to donate money to put toward supplies for the evacuees:
Mahalo and Aloha to all!