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70 Hawaii Guard members sent to Puna


    National Guard soldiers talked to bystanders Friday at a roadblock on Highway 130 outside Leilani Estates in Puna, Hawaii island. As lava and earthquakes continue, more and more residents in the Puna district are being urged to be prepared to evacuate.

About 70 Hawaii National Guard troops were in the Puna district on Hawaii island Friday conducting security, sulfur dioxide monitoring and aerial reconnaissance after being activated by Gov. David Ige for volcano response, officials said.

“That’s what we have on the ground right now,” said Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony, a state Department of Defense spokesman. He added that the total could change depending on the course of lava fissures erupting in and near Leilani Estates.

“There are so many factors: What are the needs of the community? How long is this going to go on?” Anthony said.

The citizen soldiers, mostly from the Army National Guard but also from the Air Guard, are “in full uniform and using military tactical vehicles as they patrol and assist with evacuation and security in Puna,” the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said in a release.

Leilani Estates in lower Puna was under a mandatory evacuation order as it was beset by lava outbreaks and major quakes, including one of magnitude 6.9. The evacuation of Lanipuna Gardens also was ordered.

“Residents may see also (Hawaii National Guard) checkpoints assisting the Hawaii Police Department or on patrols in specific neighborhoods,” HI-EMA said.

The 93rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, which specializes in chemical and biological response and detection, is assisting Hawaii Civil Defense.

The 93rd sent six members to Hawaii island Friday in response to the sulfur dioxide near the fissures. The Hawaii Fire Department reported “extremely dangerous” levels in the evacuation area.

The unit has “sensors that can actually detect location and density (of) the levels of sulfur dioxide in the air,” Anthony said. “That information can be used by Hawaii County to help them in terms of maybe they need to think about possible evacuations or at least advisories in areas that may not necessarily be impacted by lava, but could be by sulfur dioxide.”

Two National Guard Black Hawk helicopters — one out of Hilo and another from Oahu — were helping conduct aerial surveillance, Anthony said.

HI-EMA said there have been reports during previous events of civilians wearing camouflage and impersonating military members to gain access to evacuated homes.

As a result, officials are “reminding the public that soldiers and airmen will be in military vehicles and carrying their military IDs,” HI-EMA said. “If there is a question at any time whether or not a person is with the Hawaii National Guard, look for their vehicle and ask to see their military ID.”

Anthony said the National Guard response to the Leilani Estates lava eruption is similar to the 2014-15 lava flows that damaged parts of Pahoa before stalling ahead of Pahoa Village Road, a market and police and fire stations.

“Typically at any one time, we had about 80 soldiers and airmen supporting Hawaii County police. That carried on for months,” Anthony said.

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