Hawaii Town Wounded By Eruption Suffering Again Under Virus

May 9, 2020

HILO — A Hawaii mountain town that suffered serious economic damage from a volcanic eruption has been wounded by another natural disaster as the coronavirus hits its livelihood.

The small community of Volcano on the Big Island was shut down for months following the May 2018 eruption of Kilauea, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Thursday.

Many businesses closed or were disrupted for months as the eruption continued and daily earthquakes rocked the area.

Two years later, following a slow recovery, Volcano is feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a whole new ball game,” said Janet Coney, Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant manager.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is a major driver of the community’s economy, was closed for four months during the eruption. The park closed again March 22 following the pandemic outbreak.

Coney worries the economic recovery from the virus could be slower.

“After the eruption ended, the park opened back up, and people came back quickly,” Coney said. “I’m afraid the pandemic will affect how people travel from now on.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

After Democratic Gov. David Ige extended a stay-at-home order and a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors, Coney contacted guests with pending reservations.

“Everyone either canceled or rescheduled their reservation,” she said. “I’m happy the state is staying safe, but it is difficult.”

Ola Tripp, owner of Lava Rock Cafe, does renovations while business remains slow.

“We’re hanging in there,” Tripp said. “Locals are still coming by, but I would always like to have more.”

Ira Ono, owner of Volcano Garden Arts, sells takeout from his restaurant but closed the gallery, which is similar to his experience when the 2018 eruption began.

“This year has been the same, but even more dramatic because there aren’t any visitors at all,” Ono said.

The Kilauea eruption gave residents a better understanding of their vulnerability as a “gateway community” for Hawaii Volcanoes park, but Ono believes the town of Volcano will recover from this second natural setback.

“We made it through the eruption, so I know we can make it through this," Ono said.