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Lava overruns last house in Royal Gardens subdivision

By Michael Tsai

LAST UPDATED: 7:51 a.m. HST, Mar 4, 2012

A day after surrendering his dream home to the forces of nature, 61-year-old Jack Thompson, the last holdout resident of the lava-besieged Royal Gardens subdivision, was left to ponder his next move.

Thompson and a friend were evacuated from the subdivision Friday night as a fresh lava flow burned through surrounding forest in a straight line toward his home. Thompson took whatever he could fit into the two helicopters, but his home and all of its furniture were soon consumed by the flow.

Thompson, a former air-conditioning and refrigeration installer, had lived at the subdivision for 30 years, proudly holding his ground while every one of his neighbors eventually left.

“It was paradise,” Thompson said by phone Saturday. “There was no place like it. I had a beautiful house with beautiful landscaping. It was a one-of-a-kind place and I’m happy to have had 30 good years there.”

Over the years, Thompson watched as lava overran areas of his subdivision, held his breath as flows headed toward his home only to turn in some other direction.

To be honest, Thompson said, he didn’t necessarily mind being the last man on his little patch of earth.

“You can probably count the number of people who have good neighbors on one hand,” he said. “After a while, it was mostly surfers and squatters out here. I paid good money for a piece of land that was supposed to have new homes on it, not a bunch of squatters in tents. I loved it when they all left. I enjoyed the solitude.”

Thompson said he always knew that he, too, might one day have to leave. 

“But I always hoped for the best,” he said.

Thompson is now living in his other home in Ainaloa, which he purchased so he’d have a place to stay in between weekly hikes from Royal Gardens to gather supplies. The adjustment hasn’t been easy, Thompson said, particularly having to get used to the chirpy peal of coqui frogs in the night.

Thompson returned today to the subdivision to see for himself what the lava flow had wrought in the space that used to be his home.

“There’s nothing left but roofing,” he said. “There’s a huge flow where my living room used to be. Soon, there’s going to be nothing left but rock, just like the rest of the subdivision.”

Thompson said he isn’t sure what he’ll do next. A former neighbor packed up and moved to Thailand, where his Social Security check stretches far enough to ensure a comfortable life. Thompson said that doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

“I’ve had enough,” Thompson said. “Maybe it’s time to sell this other house and try something else.”


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