Kilauea Recovery Efforts for Thousands Whose Lives Are in Limbo

May 29, 2018

Hundreds of Puna residents pack the Pahoa High School Cafeteria to get the latest updates on the Kilauea Eruption.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

It’s been nearly a month since Kilauea Volcano uprooted the lives of thousands of Hawaiʻi Island residents. Lava has destroyed 82 homes and covered 15,000 acres of land. County officials say evacuees are now seeking more permanent plans to wait out the ongoing eruption. HPR Reporter Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has more.

After a week of living off-the-grid, Leilani Estates evacuees Rich and Corrie Anderson were looking for more comfortable accommodations.

Evacuees set-up shop in the dugout of this baseball field near the emergency shelter at the Pahoa Community Center. Tents can also be seen nearby and in the distance. More than 2,000 residents have been evacuated since the eruption began on May 3.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“We had an empty cabin up in Mountain View that a friend of ours had and it’s got no water, no electricity, no….nothing,” says Corrie Anderson, “Nothing. Not a stove nothing.”

The Andersons sought help at the County Disaster Recovery Information Center. Here they were able to secure a restricted access pass to visit their abandoned home.

A County volunteer (right) hands out pink placards to residents living in areas in and around the fissure eruption to allow access to and from their homes.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

They were also able to find a one-bedroom rental in Puna for June. Their plans beyond that are up in the air.

“Just wait and see. There’s nothing…how do you plan? You know. You don’t know?” says Corrie.

An estimated 2,100 Puna residents have been forced from their homes since the eruption began on May 3, 2018. So what do you do with thousands of displaced residents?

That’s a task left to a coalition of government and community organizations. Volunteers from nearly a dozen agencies help collect information on community needs at the information center in Pahoa.

Evacuees have been living in limbo for weeks now. Some decided to post-up in tents on the soccer field near the Pahoa Community Center's emergency shelter.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“A lot of times people, individuals who have been impacted had to tell their story more than once and we wanted to prevent that,” says Sharon Hirota, assistant housing manager for the Hawaiʻi County.

She helps lead the coalition. Hirota says it’s hard to say what percentage of evacuees' needs have been assessed, but on average the coalition has seen an estimated 500 walk-ins a week.

“We are taking all of the information and including it into one database, and then we are going to triage based on agencies’ responsibilities and what their expertise is, and then reaching back out to these families to provide services,” says Hirota.

County workers check-in on the American Red Cross emergency shelter. On average, an estimated 150 - 200 evacuees are seeking shelter here every night, according to the Red Cross.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Outreach worker Sha’nae Ramos was canvassing the shelters - clipboard in hand - to assess evacuee needs.

RAMOS: Did you manage to get enough of your clothing and important documents out of your home?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, I left everything over there.

RAMOS: Everything’s over there.

Ramos works for Neighborhood Place of Puna. The local non-profit is part of the coalition.

“Some of it has been traumatizing. It’s an emotional situation because you’re dealing with people who are upset, people who are in shock, people who are just placid in life,” says Ramos. “Like they don’t know what’s going on in life and they want answers.”

She says affordable housing is the most pressing need. As lava continues to flow from Kilauea Volcano, there’s really no telling when the coalition’s work will end.

“These families need a lot of support. As of right now, life is hard,” says Ramos. “They don’t see nothing but 'Everything that I worked for is gone.' But we have organizations here that are willing to help them to rebuild their lives to what it was before. It’s not going to be the same, but it’s better than having nothing.”