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Hawaii News

Ige seeks assistance from federal programs

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PAHOA, Hawaii >> As the Kilauea eruption entered its seventh week, weary Puna residents whose lives are in limbo continued to seek solace and sustenance at several relief sites in Pahoa.

At the makeshift Puuhonua o Puna distribution center, nicknamed The Hub, dozens showed up Wednesday night to enjoy a free hot meal of baked fish, kim chee fried rice and other dishes provided by World Central Kitchen, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that feeds people in areas hit by natural disasters.

Noxious volcanic fumes forced Tarika Lea, 72, to leave property she was living on near MacKenzie State Recreational Area. She said she is now living with friends in an unfinished yurt at Hawaiian Paradise Park.

Without a refrigerator and other kitchen essentials, Lea has been going to The Hub once a day for lunch or dinner. Along with a meal, she finds comfort in being around others who are in similar circumstances.

“It’s priceless,” Lea said of the free meals offered at The Hub. “There’s community and you can immediately start talking to people. You find camaraderie and empathy.”

Along with the county, private and nonprofit groups that are lending a hand in recovery efforts, the state is reaching out again to the federal government to provide further assistance to Hawaii island residents who have lost their homes and property in the eruption that started May 3.

Gov. David Ige said Wednesday that Hawaii County estimates lava has destroyed approximately 455 dwellings in Leilani Estates, Lanipuna Gardens, Vacationland and Kapoho Beach Lots, of which 192 are primary residences. Many other homes throughout Puna have been cut off by lava or are uninhabitable due to poor air quality from volcanic gases. County officials initially had estimated that more than 600 homes were lost.

Ige announced he has requested approval to use federal programs that assist individuals to address eruption-related losses. The array of programs provides services including crisis counseling, transitional housing assistance, disaster unemployment aid, legal assistance for dealing with insurance claims, landlord issues and other concerns, and financial aid to address residents’ needs and help them get back on their feet.

President Donald Trump approved Ige’s request for a disaster declaration on May 11, authorizing the Public Assistance Grant Program for Hawaii County and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for the state.

Meanwhile, the threat of vog is looming large over the Puna, Kau and Kona areas. The National Weather Service reported Wednesday that light winds will allow volcanic fumes to drift inland and to the south, wrapping around the island to the Kona side. Even Hilo in East Hawaii could be affected, officials said.

Heavy vog is expected to remain until early next week, according to the weather forecasters.

Residents can learn more at a community meeting on volcanic ash and vog that is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today at the Ocean View Community Center in Kau.

Meanwhile, the lower East Rift Zone eruption in Puna continues as it has in recent weeks, with the dominant fissure 8 producing 140-foot-high fountains of molten rock and a large channelized flow that is entering the ocean where Kapoho Bay had been and generating a large plume of “laze,” steam laced with hydrochloric acid and tiny shards of volcanic glass.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory also reported spattering and small flows at fissures 16 and 18.

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