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UPDATE: Eruption Paused or Pau? Puna Residents Continue Life in Limbo

August 15, 2018, 12:59 PM HST (Updated August 16, 2018, 10:23 AM)
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Leilani Estates resident Andy Andrews reads a letter aloud during the Aug. 14 community question portion, which was signed by 126 Leilani residents. VC: Crystal Richard

Emergency officials answered questions posed by the community during the Puna meeting at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018.

The meeting began with United States Geological Survey Scientist-in-Charge Tina Neal presenting a briefing on the current activity at Kīlauea.

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Neal discussed the one question everyone is asking—is the eruption paused or pau (finished)?

According to Neal, it is too soon to know.

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VIDEO: DLNR Hawai‘i Island Branch Chief Lino Kamakau. VC: Crystal Richard

She referenced past Lower East Rift Zone eruptions that paused and then reactivated with vigor. The 1955 eruption paused twice for five days and then again 16, with new fissures opening after the 16-day pause and rapidly erupting.

The 1971 flow paused for 3.5 months.

She said there is lava bubbling down inside the Fissure 8 cone. Although greatly diminished, the eruption is still ongoing.

“The point is, we can’t tell if it is over… there is no magic amount of time that the volcano stops activity, after which we can say it is all clear, that it is safe and not going to start again,” Neal said. “That’s just the way volcanoes are.”

U.S. Geological Survey Scientist-in-Charge, Tina Neal, gave a brief power point presentation on the current activity of Kilauea during the Puna community meeting on Aug. 14, 2018, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

Neal pointed out that cracks in western Leilani Estates are seeing slight enlargement, high temperatures and elevated gas output. There are signs the dyke may still be active (a magmatic dyke or dike forms when magma intrudes into a crack then crystallizes). Magma is composed of molten rock and is stored in the Earth’s crust. (Lava is magma that reaches the surface through a volcano vent.)

Neal discussed the current hazards associated with the eruption activity and what Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is doing at this time.

She warned that rapid reactivation of any of the 24 fissures could occur suddenly, possibly creating new lava flows, and said that warning and reaction time could be very short.

Additional hazards include tephra (rock fragments and particles ejected by a volcanic eruption) hiding holes, cracks and debris; dead trees; glassy fragments; collapses; laze from the remnants of lava oozing from the channel; and hot, unstable and sharp flow surfaces.

“As long there is active lava at the surface and active lava we see oozing into the ocean, it’s technically still erupting,” stated Neal.

Hawai‘i County Executive Assistant Roy Takemoto addresses the Puna community during the meeting on Aug. 14, 2018, in the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

Neal said for an eruption to really be over, the monitoring data needs to show a steady quiet with no signs of magma significantly accumulating or moving underground.

“Right now, that is the case,” said Neal. “Our seismicity and deformation in the LERZ is very quiet—but its really only been 10 days, so it’s too soon to tell.”

HVO is continuously monitoring the activity at Kīlauea very closely and is present at the Emergency Operation Center daily between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. in Pāhoa (located off Highway 130, just north of the Pāhoa Fire Department).

Following the USGS presentation, Ron Whitman from the Hawai‘i County Department of Research and Development, addressed two unanswered questions from the meeting two weeks ago regarding helicopter noise and water quality in the impacted areas.

Whitman directed attendees to the Hawaii Helicopter Association for their questions and concerns regarding “excessive” helicopter noise. HHA can be reached online and (808) 639-5566.

Lower Puna residents lining up for the community question portion of the Puna community meeting held on Aug. 14, 2018, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

Addressing concerns about acidic water, Whitman said FEMA is now covering costs for a one-time cleaning of water tanks. Many tanks contain glass fragments (Pele’s Hair), acid rain and tephra.

University of Hawai‘i is offering free water testing. For more information, go to Hawaii Rainwater Catchment Systems Program website.

The meeting followed the new format introduced during the July 31 gathering—a question and answer format mediated by Julie Mitchell of Kuʻikahi Mediation Center.

Using the new format, the community is asked to line up, then present their question or comment within two minutes. All questions and comments are given, and then emergency officials answer as many questions as they can.

Residents of all areas in the LERZ asked questions, from when they can go home, to cell service and concerns over being involved in the process.

“I want to point out that people have been out of their homes, have lost everything, have been totally displaced since May 3, basically, and there is an intense craving for return to normality, to normalcy; you don’t really seem to be taking it into consideration,” said Puna resident Rene Siracusa. “At the last meeting Talmadge [Magno, the Hawai‘i County Civil Defense administrator] came out with this whole thing about the placards and half of what he was saying sounded like military Marshall Law. It does not sit well with people.”

Julie Mitchell from Kuʻikahi Mediation Center addressing the ‘Aloha Etiquette” for the Puna community meeting at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria, Aug. 14, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard

Leilani Estates resident Andy Andrews read a letter aloud during the community question session, which was sent to Hawai‘i officials and signed by 126 Leilani residents. The letter said that Leilani residents are unhappy about being left out of the decision-making process.

Magno said government officials would be happy to have the involvement of residents and asked their representative to contact him.

Another Leilani resident, Robert Golden, addressed residents’ desire to have the blockade moved from Pomaikai Street in order free up access to the Leilani Community Center.

Magno said Civil Defense is reassessing and working with HVO closely.

“As things go on, the pause maintains,” said Magno. “It’s a stable atmosphere. We’ll consider opening up more area, but it’s all in consideration of what we get from HVO.”

Magno reiterated that Civil Defense has been and still is providing escorts into the area for residents whose homes/properties were covered by lava. In some cases, the areas are not accessible, he said, but pointed out that there are helicopter tours available (not supplied by the county) and that Civil Defense and USGS are providing aerial footage.

Addressing rumors in the community, Magno said, “Kids in Leilani—that’s your own decision. I have talked with families with young kids. Definitely, the area with fallout of Pele’s Hair and tephra is not a place for kids to be running around, with the potential of that stuff getting in their eyes as they
play in the yard. It is not a very nice environment. So, that decision is your own.”

Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno answering questions from Puna resident Jennifer Perry, after the Puna community meeting on August 14, 2018 in the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

He pointed out that with the high sulfur dioxide, the sensitive population—those diagnosed respiratory conditions, elderly and the young—are at risk.

“We recommend they not be in SO2, but again, the decision is your own,” stated Magno.

At the July 31 meeting, as well as this meeting, there were many questions about cell service and requests for updates on what is being done to improve AT&T coverage, as previously discussed. There was no one present to answer these questions, but Magno gave an update, saying that several options are coming up. He said a cell on wheels (COW) is being considered in the Highway 137 area.

“Companies are considering other towers,” Magno said. “Now that we are in this situation—the pause—a tower by PGV [Puna Geothermal Venture] is being looked at. We are looking at increasing coverage for the area. Unfortunately, things aren’t moving as fast as you guys need them. So, I don’t have any time frame, but that was the last conversation we had.”

After the meeting concluded, BIN followed up with Magno regarding cell coverage.

During the May 29 community meeting, Hawaiian Telcom Representative Wally Wong assured the crowd that Hawaiian Telcom, AT&T and Verizon were all doing their best to keep communications open for residents and first responders.

Leilani Estates resident Michael Seal addressing his concerns over resident involvement in decision making and how to move forward during the Puna community meeting on Aug. 15, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard

Wong said the focus is on Highway 130 and 132 fiber feeds that branch off to the subdivisions.

“We have a solution to connect radios across the lava,” Wong explained during the May 29 meeting.

He said they are waiting for the flow front to calm down before they proceed.

The lava from Fissure 8 crossed Highway 132 in the early afternoon of May 29, 2018. The lava crossing the highway meant that many in lower Puna were without telephone and internet services.

When asked about the lack of progress in improving cell service and pointing out that residents will now have to wait two more weeks to even get answers to their questions, Magno said, “We did have one improvement; they repositioned the Hawaiian Beaches antenna and jacked up the power, so there was some increase.”

When asked if the COW had been installed in Leilani Estates as residents were informed two weeks ago, Magno said no.

The questions and answers from this meeting will be available for the public on the Civil Defense website.

Puna community meetings are now on a bi-weekly schedule on Wednesdays. The next meeting will be held on Aug. 29, 2018 at 5 p.m.

Crystal Richard
Crystal Richard moved to East Hawai’i in 2005 to attend UH Hilo. While earning her bachelor’s degree in English and a certificate to teach English as a second language, Crystal served as the editor-in-chief of “Hohonu,” UH Hilo’s academic journal, and as assistant editor-in-chief at “KeKalahea,” UH Hilo’s student newspaper. From a young age, Crystal fell in love with the written word and has always dreamed of a career in journalism. She has worked as a Big Island Now freelance reporter since September 2016. She is a wellness and health advocate who enjoys swimming, gardening, reading and spending time with her animals and loved ones.
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