“Totally Numb, Even More in Shock”: Lava Victims Survey Their Property
Today, searching for closure, we’re headed to the East Rift Zone for an overflight to survey the damage done below.
“I can’t believe we used to drive down that road to go surfing.”
Neekowee and Emily Clearwater are still in disbelief. Both raised on the Big Island, their love story started here 17 years ago. Puna, where she first heard the words I love you, where little Luola’s baby luau was, where her piko floated out to sea.
“Are we confirming that everything is basically gone except that small patch?”
“Yeah. 90% gone.”
“Do you still feel numb about it?”
“Totally numb even more in shock.”
And this isn’t the first time Neekowee lost his home to Kilauea Volcano. He was 3 when lava covered Kalapana.
“I don’t even remember seeing the lava or anything like that. It’s just been stories of living there and I’ve thought the same thing for our daughter. To her, it will just be stories that the house she lived in got covered up.”
Growing up in Puna, life was simple.
“It was different back then, the red road there was almost no traffic. I didn’t wear clothes until I was like 5 or 6 probably. Just played in the bushes all the time. We’d find fishing string, hooks, and a stick tie the fishing string onto the stick put a hook on it pound an opihi off the rock and dangle it over the edge and catch fish.”
For a latchkey surfer kid who didn’t learn to read until the age of 10, he did well. Went to college and became an airline pilot. Just four months prior to the eruption, they finally had the means to move home, moved into a cabin and started clearing their land.
“It was really the only way that we could have fully lived out our dream. We could get enough land that we could have an orchard, we could have extra space for family. It was two miles away from my favorite surf break. It was my dream.”
Then, the earthquakes…
“You could hear them before they shook the house. You could hear them coming, you could hear the direction they were coming from.”
Evacuation seemed necessary with their 15-month-old baby and another on the way. Neekowee went back alone to retrieve what he could from their home.
“It sounded like bombs going off in the house. Every time it would explode, the house would get shaking like crazy. I didn’t feel like any of the stuff in there was worth hanging out for.”
Their two new kittens, Opihi and Pohaku, were no where to be found.
“I was in between flights when Emily said yep, our house is gone. My whole thing right then was just like to put it out of my mind because I was about to go fly again. There was just so much other stuff to think about, I don’t think I’ve given myself the chance to just sit and think about it.”
When Kapoho went, they were struck another blow.
“That’s one of Emily’s favorite places to go and there was a surf break there too. That’s where so many kids in that area learned to swim.”
Like so many others, reeling from the loss and hoping to find closure soon.
“Last question… what does Puna mean to you? (Neekowee is silent)
And that closure can’t come soon enough.
These are the stories of Puna, reporting from Hilo, Malika Dudley.
To donate to the Clearwater ohana GoFundMe page click HERE.