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Evacuees focus on what matters

  • RON PAUL / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

    Janet Morrow, left, of Leilani Estates waited Thursday in the parking lot of the Pahoa Community Center with her dogs Xena and Zeus. Hawaii County Fire Department personnel, above, went door to door Thursday notifying residents of an evacuation in the Leilani Estates subdivision of Lower Puna.

  • RON PAUL / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

    Hawaii County Fire Department personnel conducting door-to-door evacuation notification in Leilani Estates subdivision in Lower Puna.

Having seen with his own eyes the explosions of lava bursting from the long, fiery fissure just two blocks from his home and business, Michael Hale found his sense of what’s important dramatically clarified yesterday.

“I looked around and asked myself, ‘What’s valuable?’” Hale said, recalling the tense moments before an active lava outbreak forced him to evacuate the Hale Hale Hostel and Vacation Rentals property that he owns. “In that moment nothing looked valuable. I filled the (truck) cab with mostly junk, and that was it.”

Just an hour earlier Hale had heard the first rumblings from a violent breach of steam and lava escaping through a rift along Mohala Street in the Leilani Estates subdivision in Pahoa.

“I could see the plumes from my roof,” he said.

In short order County Civil Defense ordered an evacuation of the eastern end of the subdivision, from Luana to Mohala streets.

Hale ran to one of his nearby rental units to inform his tenants before setting off for the northern end of the subdivision to await further instructions. Soon after, Civil Defense extended the evacuation to the entire subdivision.

Many of the evacuees took shelter at Pahoa Regional Community Center. Those with pets were moved to a designated area of the facility where they could stay with their animals.

Monica Devlin, 71, arrived at the shelter with her two dogs, some clothes and toiletries, and her prized ukulele.

She said she had been monitoring the situation since the tremors began earlier in the week.

“Once they started, they were nonstop,” she said. “But then today there seemed to be a lot fewer.”

As the afternoon wore on with little official information trickling out, Devlin said she could see the plumes of smoke from her home on Makamae Street. Like many in her neighborhood, her first inkling of the gravity of the situation came when she viewed drone videos of the fissure that were making their way around social media.

By late afternoon she could even feel the heat permeating her home.

“The lava was close enough that I could notice that the house felt warm,” she said. “It was odd for that time of day.”

Devlin, who has lived in Puna for 30 years, still vividly remembers the Kalapana lava flow of 1990 and the 2014 flow that threatened homes in the area.

“After living here so long, you learn not to take anything for granted,” she said.

Clyde and Dora Kamekona Wheatley were among the first to see the cracks along Leilani Avenue that opened after the magnitude- 5.0 earthquake that shook the area around 10:30 a.m. They were also among the first to see those same cracks widen and fill with lava hours before they were evacuated from their Leilani Avenue home.

Dora Kamekona Wheatley said she was distressed at the potential loss of her home, which she inherited from her parents, but was nonetheless heartened by the displays of compassion and community that she witnessed throughout the day, from the firefighter who jump-started her husband’s stalled truck so he could evacuate, to the strangers at the shelter who shared food with her family.

“I’m going to lose everything,” she said. “But I’m thankful that I have my family with me and that we’re here and alive.”

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