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Kilauea Recovery Efforts for Thousands Whose Lives Are in Limbo

Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

It’s been nearly a month since Kilauea Volcano uprooted the lives of thousands of Hawai?i Island residents. Lava has destroyed 82 homes and covered 15,000 acres of land. County officials say evacuees are now seeking more permanent plans to wait out the ongoing eruption. HPR Reporter Ku?uwehi Hiraishi has more.

After a week of living off-the-grid, Leilani Estates evacuees Rich and Corrie Anderson were looking for more comfortable accommodations.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Evacuees set-up shop in the dugout of this baseball field near the emergency shelter at the Pahoa Community Center. Tents can also be seen nearby and in the distance. More than 2,000 residents have been evacuated since the eruption began on May 3.

“We had an empty cabin up in Mountain View that a friend of ours had and it’s got no water, no electricity, no….nothing,” says Corrie Anderson, “Nothing. Not a stove nothing.”

The Andersons sought help at the County Disaster Recovery Information Center. Here they were able to secure a restricted access pass to visit their abandoned home.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
A County volunteer (right) hands out pink placards to residents living in areas in and around the fissure eruption to allow access to and from their homes.

They were also able to find a one-bedroom rental in Puna for June. Their plans beyond that are up in the air.

“Just wait and see. There’s nothing…how do you plan? You know. You don’t know?” says Corrie.

An estimated 2,100 Puna residents have been forced from their homes since the eruption began on May 3, 2018. So what do you do with thousands of displaced residents?

That’s a task left to a coalition of government and community organizations. Volunteers from nearly a dozen agencies help collect information on community needs at the information center in Pahoa.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Evacuees have been living in limbo for weeks now. Some decided to post-up in tents on the soccer field near the Pahoa Community Center's emergency shelter.

“A lot of times people, individuals who have been impacted had to tell their story more than once and we wanted to prevent that,” says Sharon Hirota, assistant housing manager for the Hawai?i County.

She helps lead the coalition. Hirota says it’s hard to say what percentage of evacuees' needs have been assessed, but on average the coalition has seen an estimated 500 walk-ins a week.

“We are taking all of the information and including it into one database, and then we are going to triage based on agencies’ responsibilities and what their expertise is, and then reaching back out to these families to provide services,” says Hirota.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
County workers check-in on the American Red Cross emergency shelter. On average, an estimated 150 - 200 evacuees are seeking shelter here every night, according to the Red Cross.

Outreach worker Sha’nae Ramos was canvassing the shelters - clipboard in hand - to assess evacuee needs.

RAMOS: Did you manage to get enough of your clothing and important documents out of your home?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, I left everything over there.

RAMOS: Everything’s over there.

Ramos works for Neighborhood Place of Puna. The local non-profit is part of the coalition.

“Some of it has been traumatizing. It’s an emotional situation because you’re dealing with people who are upset, people who are in shock, people who are just placid in life,” says Ramos. “Like they don’t know what’s going on in life and they want answers.”

She says affordable housing is the most pressing need. As lava continues to flow from Kilauea Volcano, there’s really no telling when the coalition’s work will end.

“These families need a lot of support. As of right now, life is hard,” says Ramos. “They don’t see nothing but 'Everything that I worked for is gone.' But we have organizations here that are willing to help them to rebuild their lives to what it was before. It’s not going to be the same, but it’s better than having nothing.”

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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