PAHOA, HAWAII — Mary Dressler lives in a lovely, peaceful home near the ocean in one of several subdivisions threatened by Kilauea’s ongoing eruption. Twenty-five years ago, she lived in Kalapana, in a home that eventually succumbed to an earlier Puu Oo lava flow.
“We’re going through the same saga as in 1990,” Dressler said Tuesday. “It’s like having a friend that has cancer. You know what they’re facing; however, you just pray for that miracle.”
Dressler is one of the 3,891 homeowners living in lower Puna and her Aloha Aina Wellness Center is one of 257 businesses in the area being affected by the June 27 Puu Oo flow now threatening Pahoa. Since her clientele includes many mainland visitors, she’s seen a substantial drop in business as media coverage has discouraged people from traveling to Puna. “I’ve had so many cancellations; it definitely affects the business.”
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Dr. Mark Kimura of the University of Hawaii-Hilo Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences said, based on a Oct. 9-12 online and paper survey he conducted, that about 86 percent of the affected Puna population is staying put, at least for the time being. Almost half of the 597 valid responses he gathered indicated the respondent had no or limited options for moving.
No Advancement in Five Days
The leading edge of the flow located in an older portion of Pahoa’s residential area has not measurably advanced in the past five days, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darrell Oliveira said Wednesday morning. The stalled flow front remains about 480 feet from Pahoa Village Road, half a mile from Highway 130.
“It’s very quiet, no breakouts, no burning on the residential property,” Oliveira said, adding that geologists monitoring the flow over the past two days do note the inflation of the flow upslope continues and there is some burning at the perimeter of breakouts near Apa’a Road and farther upslope. “We will continue monitoring and maintaining a vigil,” he said, as the system is still active.
Members of the media gather for updates at the county building located along Pahoa Village Road as Civil Defense Chief Darryl Oliveira gives updates Oct. 30.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
“Kalapana taught us that the entire length of pahoehoe flows must be considered active, no matter how dead they appear,” UHH Geology Professor Ken Hon states in his video on what to expect from pahoehoe flows in Puna.
“Pressure within the flow can fracture the crust at the margins at any time, creating a new flow lobe and causing problems to properties that may have been spared by the original passage of the flow front,” Hon said.
Last Time, Seven Years to Lose a Home
Although Kilauea’s East Rift eruption started in 1983, Dressler said it took until 1990 for her to lose her home there. “It literally took seven years for that eruption, seven years in limbo. It was one of toughest things I have ever endured. It was so stressful.”
Thinking she’d not face eruptive activity on the other side of Pahoa, she rebuilt in the Hawaiian Beaches/Hawaiian Shores area, in a smaller subdivision called Hawaiian Parks (not to be confused with Hawaiian Paradise Park). Now she’s got the same feelings that she experienced in Kalapana.
“Some days I feel real emotional and other times my daughters tell me I’m in denial,” Dressler said.
The lava’s advance from the north of Pahoa on Oct. 29.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi was actually born in his family’s home just across Kalapana Road from Kaimu Bay, now under tons of hardened lava that covered the beautiful world-famous black sand beach and filled in the bay 50 feet deep.
“In ’83 when the eruption started, I was a freshman in high school,” Mayor Kenoi said. “All through high school, I went surfing there every day, at Drainpipe, Kaimu, Left Point.” He left to attend college on the East Coast in August 1990 and that October he got the call that Kaimu Bay was no more. It took him more than three years to go see the area in the daylight. “It was devastating!”
Asked about the effects of the long-term eruption on the Kalapana community, the mayor said the loss of Queen’s Bath was a milestone.
“We never thought it would take Walter’s (Store and Drive Inn), that it would hit the church, Harry K. Brown Park, or Kaimu,” Kenoi recalled. Looking back, he said realized that some in the community had gotten complacent and had forgotten that “your home, your life, your neighborhood, your childhood is at risk.”
“It’s like being in Puna right now. It’s the all powerful, omnipotent threat that nobody has control over, that we’re all witness to,” he said.
How did his experience in Kalapana help him deal with the current situation as mayor? Kenoi said he’s learned “not to be penny wise and pound foolish,” a lesson reinforced by the many hurricane and tsunami threats to the island since he became mayor in 2008.
“Over-saturation” is the term he likes to use, signaling “maximum outreach, maximum allocation of resources.”
“A lot of what management and leadership is, is thinking what people need and getting it to those who need it most. So we don’t try to overcomplicate it, and we’ll tally it later.”
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Frankie Stapleton is a retired journalist and teacher and the author of "Aloha O Kalapana," (Bishop Museum Press, 1992, currently out of print). She covered Kilauea and Mauna Loa eruptions since 1977 for the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and is a 35-year resident of Pahoa.