Exclusive Interview With Mayor Kim
Big Island Now Meteorologist Malika Dudley interviewed Hawai‘i Island Mayor Harry Kim in the Emergency Operating Center in Pāhoa on Monday morning, June 11, 2018.
In the interview, the mayor disclosed that approximately 410 people are currently in the two available shelters and at least 600 to 700 homes have been destroyed by lava, although officials are working on determining the exact number lost.
“I would be very surprised if it were less than 700,” the mayor said. “I would not be surprised if it was over 700,” the mayor added, considering the number of un-permitted structures in the area.
The mayor also discussed the new development of tiny homes going up to shelter evacuees.
When you are young, losing everything is tragic, said the mayor. “But when you are in your 60s or 70s and you lose everything, it’s a different ball game.”
The mayor said the governor, FEMA and the county are going to try to develop a community copying the Kaiko‘o tsunami project.
It was the 1960 tsunami that sparked legislation to establish a greenbelt in the hardest hit area of Hilo to prevent future losses of life and business. Dubbed Project Kaiko‘o (Rough Seas), tax benefits were granted to businesses and individuals to relocate.
“When a person has lost everything and we can document that, we will buy his lot that was covered by lava in exchange for a lot he can build on,” the mayor said.
That work has just begun, the mayor stressed.
“This will involve a lot of work—a lot of planning,” the mayor said.
He underscored the Hawai‘i County has the support of the governor and FEMA to develop a variety of relocation programs.
Mayor Kim said Puna residents have not only lost their home, but their jobs as well, because their farm is gone…
The mayor said the 20 “tiny homes” recently being built in Pāhoa are the beginning of a great community program.
The mayor visited the project on Saturday, and said it was the first time he really “felt good inside.”
“We have a long ways to go, but we’ll get there,” he said.
The Sacred Heart Church will identify which families will inhabit the homes. For more information, call Hope Services at (808) 935-3050.
The mayor also discussed the role FEMA has been playing in support of Hawai‘i County, including the cost of paving Beach Road, an evacuation route.
“That was four weeks ago, before this was even a threat,” the mayor said. It has now served as an evacuation route for hundreds of people, he said.
Mayor Kim said he just met with the owners of Puna Geothermal Venture power plant. With so many unknowns, he said, he told them it impossible to predict if and when the plant will be able to recommence operations.
The mayor said the company is away of their “bad rap.” They said they had no intention of doing harm. “We’re just a power company,” the Israeli owner said.
The government zoned the area for development of the plant, and created its regulations, the mayor explained.
“You can’t just blame the private sector, the mayor said. They were there with the blessing of the government.”
The mayor then shared that the PVG owner said, “I will write you a six-figure check to help with the evacuation.”
Dudley then asked about the residents who were allowed to buy and build on land in the East Rift Zone.
The mayor explained that at the time development began in 1959, there were no lava zones.
“It was not until the late 1970s that lava zones were created, the mayor said.
Mayor Kim explained that he lost his home in the area. “I just wanted my kids to enjoy the beauty of the place while we could.”
Leilani Estates was one of the most beautiful forested areas, the mayor lamented.
The last time lava hit that area was maybe 400 years ago, he said.
“The lifestyle people had there is really really special—the enjoyment of nature’s ways, off the grid,” he said.
For those who ask why we moved there, the mayor said, “Number one; we didn’t know. Number two; some did and said ‘acceptable risk.’”
The common denominator was “a nice place to live,” the mayor said.
The mayor then commented about the fact that there are still residents in the danger zone.
The mayor simply stated, “This is their home,” adding that the police and fire departments may disagree with some of his policies.
The mayor said he takes that responsibility seriously.
“If harm comes to them, I made that decision,” said the mayor.
The mayor said he had set up sulfur dioxide monitoring in the area, and volcanic and seismic activity monitoring is in place as well to warn residents about every possibility of harm.
Mayor Kim said, “They’re never going back. They have no place to go back home.”
But the mayor said he and the other emergency responders will work with federal, state, county and private partners to develop a whole new community to give some people hope for tomorrow.
But rebuilding in Hazard Zone 1 is a mistake, and will not be allowed, according to the mayor.
Dudley asked the mayor about resources to address the emotional toll the eruption has caused.
“The answer is yes; the answer is no,” the mayor replied. “We human beings hide our emotions so well.”
“Unfortunately, last week—I don’t know why—a young man committed suicide. He was staying at the shelter.”
Mental health programs are available, the mayor said. “But no matter how much you do, it’s not going to be enough,” he said.
“People gave me this job with these responsibilities, and I’m just trying to do the best I can,” said the mayor.
Dudley also reported that Bob Fenton, Region 9 FEMA administrator will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. at the EOC. He’s been with FEMA for 23 years and started at Region 26 with a flood on O‘ahu.
Fenton noted that he has spoken about this situation with the White House. He admitted FEMA’s programs are not made for this kind of situation.
“We’ll need to think outside of the box and bring in other federal agencies to help,” he said.
USGS HVO Geophysicist Jim Kauahikaua noted that Fissure 8 is still active. Fountaining is a little bit less but it’s still sustained 115 to 130 feet. The lava is coming through full strength. The channel is quite full but there are no spillovers. There were two explosions overnight, one at 12:46 a.m. and one at 4:43 am. The second had the energy of a 5.4 magnitude quake. Significant deflation continues at summit due to the explosions.
Fissure 8 is right where Luana street used to be.
“We are in a stable situation but we are poised to react to anything,” Hawai‘i Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno, said.
The National Weather Service reported that trade winds blowing 10 to 20 mph will push immersions to the south and southwest through Wednesday. Emissions may pool up later in the week.
The Hawai‘i County Parks and Recreation spokesperson said man activities for kids were planned for the weekend. People are having potlucks in their tents and sharing food with their neighbors. They are planning a Father’s Day event for next Sunday and the classic car show will take place outside of the shelter. They are working very hard to keep people’s emotional state stable.