PAHOA, Hawaii >> Alvina Santos has lost count of the number of days that have passed since she was awakened in the middle of the night in her Leilani Estates home by blaring sirens and people on loudspeakers telling her family to get out of her house as lava erupted into their neighborhood.
“It was just a disaster and it still is,” said Santos, a 50-year-old grandmother staying with her two adult daughters and four grandchildren at an evacuation shelter at Pahoa Community Center. “We’re just waiting to wake up from it.”
That’s why when she heard local businesses and volunteers were organizing a Mother’s Day celebration at the Pahoa District Park Gym, a small sense of relief washed over her.
“I really need that right now,” Santos recalled thinking. “We could use a pampering.”
Orion Enocencio, 38, operations manager of the tour company Ahiu Hawaii, helped coordinate the event with doTERRA, an essential-oils company, and several other organizations and businesses, including the American Red Cross, Zippy’s, Target and Big Island Candies.
“We need our moms,” said Enocencio, who has 11 children with his wife, Kulanihiwa, the owner of Ahiu Hawaii. Enocencio said he helped coordinate the event because he wanted to do something for mothers. “If we don’t have our moms in our lives, then we’re practically nobody.”
He said he hoped the event would give the displaced moms an opportunity to “remove themselves from what’s happening to their homes and to their lives right now and put happiness into their lives for this brief moment.”
The lava eruption that began May 3 has forced the evacuation of about 1,800 residents from Leilani Estates and nearby Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions in Lower Puna. Residents are allowed back into Leilani Estates from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily to check on their property but must leave overnight.
About 250 people attended the event at the Pahoa shelter, including about 125 mothers, said Coralie Matayoshi, Hawaii Red Cross CEO. They received lunch, musical entertainment, essential oils to help the respiratory system, massages and gift bags. At the Keeau shelter about 40 residents attended a similar event and received massages, flowers and gifts, Matayoshi said.
Jade Rajbir Kaur, 40, had to evacuate twice following the eruption. She first evacuated from her home in Leilani Estates, which she thinks was destroyed. Then she went to another home in Kalapana but had to leave there because the air quality was so poor from the plume rising out of Halemaumau Crater at Kilauea Volcano’s summit.
Now she is staying at a home where she is house-sitting.
Kaur, who was with her 7-year-old son, Alaka‘i Braham, at the Mother’s Day lunch, said she would have been at home sleeping if it were not for the lunch.
“It’s such an intense, crazy time, but the community and the aloha is so strong,” she said. “It really touches my heart.”
Santos, who was evacuated from her Leilani Estates home in the middle of the night, said she couldn’t believe what was happening until she signed in at Pahoa shelter as an evacuee more than a week ago.
She recalled that after she was awakened by the evacuation announcements, she and her adult daughters put her grandchildren into the car and only had time to go back to get important documents before fleeing. They didn’t have time to change out of their pajamas or grab extra clothes.
Her younger grandchildren, ages 2, 6, and 8, were wondering what was happening, and she told them, while trying to stay as calm as she could, that she would explain, but first they needed to leave. She said she felt nauseated having to leave two dogs and a cat behind.
In the days afterward her family had to wear donated clothes before being allowed back into their home to retrieve clothes and pets. For now Santos continues the job she had before the eruption began — working as a security guard at the Pahoa gym — and her grandchildren have returned to school.
Santos said the Mother’s Day lunch was a form of therapy for her.
“For us right now it’s really needed to forget and take a breath from all that we’ve been going through,” she said. “It’s been hard and heartbreaking.”