Puna and Kau residents receive donated masks to tolerate ashfall
Hawaii News

Puna and Kau residents receive donated masks to tolerate ashfall

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Volunteers at the Cooper Center on Thursday distri­buted free N-95 masks, which help to filter volcanic ash. State Department of Health nurse Cash Lopez demonstrated how to properly fit and wear tight.

VOLCANO, Hawaii >> More than 12,000 particulate-blocking masks were distributed to Puna and Kau residents in a six-hour span Thursday, thanks to a gift from Scotch Tape maker 3M, with swift help from Hawaii County Civil Defense, the American Red Cross Hawaii chapter, community volunteers and Hawaii’s famous coconut wireless network.

A short but explosive eruption at Kilauea Volcano’s summit at 4:17 a.m. Thursday left trace amounts of ashfall primarily in communities from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park to Kurtistown. The blast was not as disruptive as one that occurred Tuesday — which sent ash particles mostly into Volcano but also Kau — but nonetheless raised concerns among officials and residents, especially because scientists are anticipating more such incidents.

Mask distribution centers were set up at the Cooper Center in Volcano, the Pahala Community Center and Naalehu Community Center in Kau and the Shipman Park Pavilion in Keaau. Civil Defense issued a notice at 10:30 a.m. that distribution would take place between 1 and 7 p.m. By 6 p.m. the Red Cross reported that about two-thirds of the 18,000 donated masks were gone.

Distribution will continue today at the Cooper Center and the Ocean View Community Center in Kau from 1 to 7 p.m.

County officials stressed that the masks provide a filter from harmful ash particles that spew from Kilauea, but do not protect against sulphur dioxide and other gases and vapors. Inhaling the particles is especially bad for seniors and the young. Officials advised residents to stay indoors and keep their windows closed when the ash is present. The masks, which are reusable but not suitable for long-term use, are mainly supposed to assist when moving between a building and a vehicle.

County officials reached out to 3M to make the donation, and the company agreed to do so through the Red Cross.

On Amazon.com a box of 10 N-95/8511 masks cost $19, so 3M’s donation comes to about $342,000.

Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno told reporters late Thursday that more masks were on the way to the island.

Distribution was brisk at the Cooper Center in Volcano, where word of mouth spread quickly.

Lower Puna resident Diana Gula, who cleans vacation rental houses in the Volcano area, said two properties where she normally works were affected by the ash. Cars were coated in ash, as were outdoor decks, Gula said. She had worn two medical-style masks, one on top of the other, while working Thursday, so the distributed ones were definitely an upgrade, she said.

She said she’s been getting headaches and feeling dizzy and experiencing a burning sensation in her eyes in recent days.

She’s also made an online purchase of six heavy-duty respirators for her family. The respirators also showed up Thursday afternoon.

Gula said she found out about the distribution through a community Facebook page, and she in turn told a number of relatives and neighbors about it. A couple from her neighborhood arrived at the Cooper Center as Gula was leaving.

Edna Arakawa, a Hawaiian Orchid Isle Estates resident, said her car was hit with a lot of ash overnight. She picked up three masks for her household, including her 91-year-old mother, who has “slight COPD,” or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The family has been following instructions, keeping her indoors, she said.

She herself has been getting a “slight headache” and fatigue, Arakawa said. “You can’t really see it, you can’t really smell it sometimes but it’s there,” she said.

Arakawa said she found out from customers who visited the Volcano Store, where she works. Many of them also reported ash on their cars, she said. “The community is really good here (with) word of mouth, and the Volcano Store is like the gossip place, the information center.”

Ola Tripp II, owner of Kilauea General Store and the Lava Rock Cafe near the center, picked up a box of 10 masks for his family and employees, as did hanai daughter Pua Norris.

Physical health is not the only thing on Tripp’s mind. Business is down nearly 75 percent since the eruption began May 3. He’s been surviving on business from regular customers and “those visitors braving the situation.”

Tripp said he won’t leave until the authorities order him out. “For the most part, this is our lives,” he said, pointing out that all his adult family members work with him. “We can’t just let it go. This is all we have.”

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