HILO >> Prospects for Hawaii island to rebound from the loss of what is now about 600 homes destroyed by lava rose significantly Thursday with a group hug and a $12 million down payment.
Mayor Harry Kim said his outlook on disaster recovery was at its highest point Thursday morning after concluding that county, state and federal officials are all on the same page for creating a new community for those who have been displaced by the eruption that began May 3 and continues.
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“I feel really positive about where we’re going to go,” Kim said at a press conference outside Hawaii County Civil Defense headquarters. “These aren’t just words. I really feel good this morning about where we’re going to go. We all share a vision of how we’re going to try to make it better for the people who lost so much and suffered so much. We’ll make that vision come true.”
Kim was joined by Gov. David Ige, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency chief Tom Travis and Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinating officer Willie Nunn.
Ige and Kim signed an agreement for the state to transfer $12 million to the county to cover relief expenses, which Kim said totaled about $3 million in the first two weeks.
The governor said the money was available from budget savingsand that the contribution would be a first installment.
“Clearly this is just the start,” he said.
FEMA has had personnel on the ground since the second day of the eruption that began in the middle of the rural Leilani Estates subdivision along Kilauea’s Lower East Rift Zone near Pahoa.
Ige said FEMA’s presence, which at one point included 45 people on the island, has been invaluable by providing experts on complex issues that included lava overrunning geothermal energy wells.
Going forward, FEMA can help reimburse the county and state for disaster recovery expenses and will be part of a task force that explores and designs a new community for displaced residents. The federal agency can provide technical assistance including a community planner.
However, FEMA’s Nunn cautioned that the process will not be quick.
A lot of discussion and decisions will need to happen — including whether the community should be in the highest-risk zones for future lava outbreaks.
“This is a marathon,” Nunn said. “It’s not a sprint.”
By contrast, it was with relatively quick speed that lava consumed homes — first at Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens where close to 130 homes have been lost. Then about 480 homes were taken in two Kapoho subdivisions near the eastern point of the island where all of about 160 homes at Vacationland were lost along with 320 homes at Kapoho Beach Lots representing most of that subdivision.
Since overrunning Kapoho and establishing a new delta of land that was about 1.2 miles wide Thursday with lava continuing to pour into the sea, the flow has been relatively unchanged.
Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said some agency operations are able to scale back somewhat given the established channel leading from fissure 8 in Leilani Estates to the ocean.
Fissure 8 was the only source of flowing lava Thursday.
In another change, Civil Defense abolished a curfew midday Thursday that applied to remaining Leilani Estates residents who had been barred from returning to their homes after 6 p.m. and before 7 a.m.
The curfew had been a sore point among many of the estimated 70 or so residents still living in the subdivision, which previously had around 750 homes.
“I’m very glad that they’ve done what they should have done and removed the curfew,” resident Pete Wilson said. Wilson is still upset that his house has been declared off-limits, which led him to stay at a home in Leilani Estates that a friend made available.
Magno said Thursday that folks like Wilson whose homes are east of Pomaikai Street will be able to schedule escorts to their property but not live there. As it is now, people like Wilson are subject to arrest if they stay in their homes or even visit.
Wilson said government officials should be thinking about what the future of the subdivision will be. “No one has discussed what is the permanent solution to the residents of Leilani Estates who choose to live next to a functioning volcano,” he said.
The priority now, though, is to get some 410 people out of shelters. Kim said this needs to be done as soon as possible, and he believes the county-state-federal commitment will make that happen.
Kim extended his gratitude to his state and federal partners, and threw his arms around the shoulders of Ige and Nunn.
“Nothing is more important than their willingness, their cooperation and their belief that we can do this,” he said.
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