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Residents Hit By Kilauea Eruption Relieved At Fewer Tourists

Ku'uwehi Hiraishi/HPR
FILE -- Visitors look at lava blocking Leilani Avenue in Leilani Estates.

HILO — The Big Island neighborhood that was ravaged by the 2018 Kilauea volcano eruption has become a destination for tourists wanting to get a look at the damage caused by one of the largest eruptions in the Hawaii volcano's recent history.

But residents of the Leilani Estates neighborhood consider the visitors a nuisance and are relieved to see interest beginning to wane, the Hawaii Tribune Herald reported Tuesday.

Tourism increased as residents were trying to return to their homes and property after being forced to evacuate. More than 700 homes were destroyed.

Leilani Estates Community Association president Andy Andrews said the number of tourists has fallen significantly since earlier this year and there are fewer confrontations between locals and visitors, who he says ignore warning signs and parking rules.

Andrews said residents most impacted by the influx of tourists — those who live closest to the lava flows — say traffic around their homes has diminished. He said at the height of lava tourism in the neighborhood visitors would park on roads that even residents were prohibited from, ignore posted access restriction signs and climb the lava flows.

"The conjecture is that people are just not that interested in the lava anymore," Andrews said. "Those of us who lived here know what fissure 8 looked like when it was active. But, to people who haven't seen it before, it doesn't look a lot different from the rest of the lava rock."

Some tour companies have stopped bringing people to the area and others have changes their approach.

"We don't want to over advertise it because we want to be sensitive, but we also have to run a business," said Chris Paterson, owner of Kailani Tours Hawaii based in Kailua-Kona. "Our whole thing is volcano tours, so without the (lava) glow, we're put in a tough place."

Paterson said his company works with residents who lost homes in the eruption and they talk to tourists about the loss while the guides discuss the eruption.

"I've come to find that most visitors walk away with a deeper understanding of the eruption and what it meant," Paterson said, although he added that there has been less general interest in volcano tours since lava is no longer visible on the island.

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