Puna District Transitions to Recovery Phase

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Hawai‘i County Civil Defense CERT (Community Emergency Response Team Coordinator Bill Hansen provided the pule (prayer) for the Puna community meeting on Sept. 5, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard

Hawai‘i County officials informed residents during the last scheduled Puna Community Meeting on Sept. 5, 2018, that response efforts have begun the transition from an ongoing disaster to recovery.

Ron Whitman from the Hawai‘i County Department of Research and Development announced that the county will now initiate the recovery process. He said officials had to start the recovery phase at the same time as the ongoing disaster.

Whitman told the community they should hear from the county very soon to plan Puna’s future.

He said the recovery process entails: choice, timeliness, collaboration, leveraged opportunities,
community engagement, mitigation and prudence.

Hawai‘i County Council will lead the recovery efforts, Whitman said.


“We haven’t been doing nothing,” stated Whitman.

He explained that these are extreme cases, with some residents evacuated, inundated or isolated in lava zone one or two.

The next steps are to coordinate a resolution of unmet needs. Whitman assured residents they would be soon be included in this process.

U.S. Geological Survey presented an update addressing the current activity at Fissure 8.

Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory Research Geologist Frank Trusdell explained that the current activity is at very low levels.

Steam shrouds Fissure 8, which was caused by heavy rain from Hurricane Lane in Leilani Estates Subdivision on Aug. 27, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard


He said seismically the area has been quiet in the last week and deformation monitors show contraction. An indicator of increasing activity would be slight inflation.

“Changes are so small; we won’t have certainty until more time passes,” said Trusdell about the halt in activity. “We are still watching. We take these as very small changes—nothing of great alarm, yet.”

He said sulfur dioxide levels have also been significantly lower since about Aug. 4, 2018, stating that the last two readings were at zero.

“Today [Sept. 5], there was still lava in the crater and its at a very low levels of activity,” Trusdell explained.

“So, is the eruption over? Not yet,” he said.


An ongoing topic addressed at the Puna community meetings has been cell service in Lower Puna. Much of the area lost telephone and internet service after a lava flow took them out in May.
In previous community meetings, residents expressed concern over the continuing lack of service.

Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno updated the community during the Puna community meeting on Sept. 5, 2018, at Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said at previous meetings that service was a high priority and steps were being taken to improve AT&T service.

County officials said they contacted residents regarding a phone/internet service meeting and no one responded.

Magno said working to get folks back to normal through crisis cleanup is new on the agenda.

Aaron Titus from Crisis Cleanupthe nation’s largest open source collaborative disaster cleanup platform, announced a project to help residents remove fallout from the eruption.

For example, many homes are covered in a layer of tephra (rock fragments and particles) and Pele’s Hair (fine threads of volcanic glass).

Titus said Crisis Cleanup will be coordinating community volunteer efforts to help one another clean roofs, gutters and catchments.

Titus recognized this is one very small step in a very large cleanup.

Fissure 9 on Moku Street in Leilani Estates, where a home once stood. August 27, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard

For the project to work, volunteers are needed, he explained.

“This is neighbors helping neighbors,” he said, “not someone outside coming in to rescue someone.

Titus encouraged those wanting to help in cleanup efforts to contact their church or Rotary Club to assemble a group of volunteers.

The group can then register at

To request help, call (808) 643-5555.

Magno reiterated that Civil Defense policies are driven by the status of the lava. He said that right now, the activity may be paused but its not done yet.

“We’ve still got lava out there,” he explained.

Hawai‘i County recently relaxed some restrictions and shut down the checkpoints.

Magno said they created a rule that restricts anyone from being closer than 50 yards from the edge
of the flow.

He reminded residents that unless Civil Defense has given authorization to go in, access is still restricted at this time.

The Malama Street-side of Moku Street in Leilani Estates on July 24, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard

There are many hazards associated to the flow field, especially shelly pahoehoe, which is dangerous to walk across because the crust collapses under bodyweight, resulting in potential injuries.

Hazards include:

  • Cinders and Pele’s Hair; eye, respiratory, skin irritant, catchment concerns
  • SO2 -other volcanic gases
  • Channel wall collapses, unsettled flows
  • Near-vent pāhoehoe is brittle and weak
  • Sinkholes in tephra
  • Hot ground 500° C
  • Whiteout conditions on hot flows during rainfall

Magno said when he goes into Pāhoa, he can tell who has been out there by the cuts all over them.

“The geologists are telling us its not safe to be out there,” stated Magno.

Representatives from Hawaii Electric Light Company answered questions before and after the meeting and presented an update on energized and de-energized areas in Lower Puna.

HELCO map of energized and de-energized areas impacted by the eruption. HELCO representatives explained what HELCO is doing in preparation for the eventual lifting of the mandatory evacuation. The portions in red currently have power. The areas in blue do not have power. The colored sections are in order of least damage and first to be repaired to the most damage and last to be repaired The map was presented to residents during the Puna community meeting on Sept.5, 2018, at Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

Following damage assessments, HELCO was able to divide the areas for restoration and repairs. Phase one includes repairs and restoration of power in Section 1 (purple on map). This area sustained the least amount of damage, so power can be restored quicker.

Once Section 1 is complete, Section 2 (green on the map) will be repaired and restored.

Section 3 has the most damage and will require a lot of work.

Representatives from Hawaii Electric Light Company were present to answer questions of residents regarding re-energizing their home and about their individual accounts before and after the Puna community meeting on Sept. 5, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard

HELCO has looked at potential areas that could be opened when the mandatory evacuation order is
lifted. HELCO Public Information Officer Kristin Okinaka said crews are working in the Leilani Estates area in preparation for possibly lifting the order.

This week, crews in Leilani were able to conduct damage assessments and begin removing damaged
equipment, such as down lines and poles, but anything that could cause harm to the community.

Okinaka said once Civil Defense does lift the evacuation order, HELCO will look to restore power to the subdivision. She assured the community that HELCO employees are committed to getting power restored as soon as they can.

Lower Puna residents expressed concerns during the last scheduled Puna community meeting on Sept. 5, 2018, at Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

The community was provided with the opportunity to ask questions and address concerns.

Steve Hirakami from Kalapana said he was in attendance to give a voice to the youth in the community. He pointed out that youth in the area have no recreation facilities or outlets. He expressed concern for their mental health and the need for access to the skate park, swimming pool and other recreational facilities in the Pāhoa community.

The biggest loss is access to the ocean, he said.

Lava from Fissure 8 covered many of the swimming, surfing and recreational spots in Puna.

Pohoiki very a important resource,” said Hirakami. “The children don’t want to hear ‘no can.'”

He went on to ask how can the community can get access to one of the only remaining beaches in Puna.

“We have a lot of smart people in the community,” added Hirakami. “I know we as a community can work together to make it safe. Not ‘no can; how can.’”

“As for Pohoiki, we did have a meeting with the mayor and some folks from the community discussing that,” said Magno. “The plans will be developing to create some kind of road access into that area. Folks have offered to do the construction, but the mayor says ‘no, well do it.’ That was the last I heard this afternoon…”

One of many homes and yards covered tephra and Pele’s Hair in Leilani Estates on June 16, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard

They also expressed concern about the fourth Supplementary Emergency Proclamation recently signed by Mayor Harry Kim.

Robert Golden, a Leilani resident, whose home is within the Mandatory Evacuation Zone, asked Civil
Defense what the criteria is to determine when the evacuation order can be lifted.

“As for the criteria… it is identifying the hazards; mitigating the hazards; we talked to the experts; we
talk to all our partners,” said Magno. “We are moving in that direction. Unless the lava starts up again, we will get resolution soon that the evacuation order will be rescinded.”

“The mayor can sign and put additional rules or rescind parts of that order at anytime, so that doesn’t
lock us into 60 days,” said Magno.

Residents also asked who will lead the redevelopment agency, calling for transparency and community involvement.

USGS answers questions of residents and State Rep. Joy San Buenaventura talking with residents after the Puna community meeting on Sept. 5, 2018, in the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

Ian from Hawaiian Paradise Park, expressed concerns over the Q&A responses posted on the Civil Defense website from the Aug. 14 meeting.

Ian pointed out that the answers do not match the responses given during the meeting.

For example, Magno told residents that their involvement was welcomed and that a representative from the Leilani Estates community should get in touch with him, but the answer on the record stated it was impractical to include residents in policymaking decisions.

Ian also asked how many incidents of theft and looting took place after the checkpoints were put in
place, and questioned how this is not a regulatory taking of their property rights under the 5th and 14 th Amendments of the U.S. Contitution, which supersedes HRS 127A and Hawai‘i County Code Chapter 7? (Both the 5th and the 14th Amendment provide all citizens with equal protection of their right to life, liberty and property.)

Leilani residents also expressed frustration over what they described as excessive and nonstop helicopter noise in Leilani Estates.

Officials were unable to answer majority of these questions.

The last day to register for FEMA is on Sept. 12, 2018.

The Pāhoa Shelter will close Sept. 17, 2018.

Additional community meetings will be scheduled as needed.

Eruption Paused or Pau? Puna Residents Continue Life in Limbo

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