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Wary residents in lava zone hope for the best, prepare for the worst

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    Volcano village resident Kathleen Golden prepared to evacuate from her home Friday. She and husband Peter own and operate Volcano Rainforest Retreat, a bed-and-breakfast next to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

HILO >> Longtime Volcano village resident Kathleen Golden is packed and prepared to evacuate if she must, but her husband, Peter, is resisting.

“I ain’t going anywhere,” Peter Golden told his wife when she suggested he fill a suitcase Friday. “Go and sit in a shelter and twiddle your thumbs? No, thank you. Not so long as I can breathe.”

The Goldens operate the Volcano Rainforest Retreat, a collection of four vacation rental cottages linked by groomed gravel pathways that wind under towering hapuu ferns, ohia trees and bamboo. They live in an isolated area about 5 miles from the summit of Kilauea Volcano, where scientists warn the latest phase of the eruption could soon become explosive.

The Goldens are among thousands of Lower Puna and Volcano residents who have been calculating the risks and making their preparations for earthquakes, ash and possible evacuations as the magma lake sinks at the summit and as new underground flows force their way east into the Lower East Rift Zone.

The latest phase of the eruption seized the attention of Kathleen Golden the evening of May 5 when a shallow earthquake with an epicenter near the retreat shook her home hard and kept shaking.

“We took everything down,” she said. They moved glassware off of shelves, taped cabinet doors closed to prevent items from dropping out and began searching for places where their guests could go if they have to evacuate. She packed a suitcase with clothes for herself.

The nearby Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park has closed as the magma level in Halemaumau Crater drops closer to the water table, raising the risk that water could spill into the superheated lava conduit.

If that happens, scientists say, it could mimic the eruption of 1924, when water spilled into the lava conduit and flashed into steam, fueling 2-1/2 weeks of explosions. Ash and debris were tossed into the air, and experts say such blasts can hurl boulders more than a half-mile.

For the Goldens, who are miles from the summit, the primary risk is from ash that could rain down after such a blast, coating their home and property, and possibly causing respiratory problems. Looking around at the carefully kept grounds, Kathleen wondered, “What would it look like if it was covered in ash? I don’t know.”

“When you’re in a situation like this, it’s right in your face, you know that you may not have another safe moment in this spot, but right now it’s beautiful and safe, and I don’t want to miss it because of fear of what may happen next,” she said.

The latest warnings about possible explosions at the summit of Kilauea Volcano have made longtime Volcano village resident Jeffrey Mermel wary but not at all panicky.

Mermel, who has lived in Volcano for 42 years, was part of a crowd that packed into the Kilauea Visitors Center this week to hear a briefing from experts with the U.S. Geological Survey about the risks of steam explosions that could hurl rocks and dust into the air.

Volcano village residents live in a rural area and are accustomed to taking care of themselves and each other, Mermel said. He dusted off some gas masks he had bought during an earlier eruption, and began looking around his house for things that might fall if there are additional earthquakes.

He also tentatively plans to buy tarps to protect his solar panels from ash because “I just don’t think they would do well when ash turns to light clay over them,” he said. He also will need to disconnect his water catchment system to prevent ash from contaminating the water stored in the tank.

Business shuts down

About 30 miles away along the East Rift Zone of Kilauea volcano, Cynthia McClendon faced a different set of issues. Scientists have been warning people in that area that underground magma has been moving eastward, and by Thursday had reached as far as McClendon’s property at Noni Farms Road.

That underground movement of magma is likely a precursor to an eruption in the area. McClendon, 46, operates a trail ride business at Silver Crest Farms but shut down her business and moved out her equipment earlier this week.

The 10 horses on the property were starting to have breathing problems, she said, but she had only a small trailer to move them and no place to take them.

“I swear, I poured some gin on the pasture, and I’m like, ‘Pele, do we move the horses or do we not?’ And I swear to God, this guy pulled up this trailer that can take eight horses at once,” she said. He offered to haul the horses to Hilo and put them on pasture he manages with his partner.

‘It was almost magic,” she said. “It was nothing short of a miracle.”

That stranger with a trailer was Hilo cowboy Gerard De Lima, 33, who has been posting his contact information on Facebook and offering to haul livestock out of the lava zone.

De Lima guessed he has made nine trips to Lower Puna in the past week to help evacuate livestock from Leilani, Opihikao and Kapoho, and so far has hauled out 26 horses, nine sheep, cattle, a donkey and a goat.

McClendon’s horses were moved to a property De Lima works with Dylan Shropshire, who owns 500 acres in Honomu with his mother and his business partners.

“I want to help as many people as I can help,” Shropshire said. “We’ve got plenty of room. Why not?”

McClendon started her trail ride business shortly after another lava flow threatened Pahoa village in 2014, and said “it’s been an adventure. But hey, we’re all still super happy through it all, we’re not going anywhere. We’ll come back when it’s all over.”

Now that her business has shut down and her income dried up, McClendon has begun fundraising to help cover the costs of feed and other care for her horses. To make a donation, visit

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