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Puna family still in shock; others hold on, hoping they’ll be spared

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Adventurous residents and members of the media are silhouetted by lava fissures at the end of Leilani Street.

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David Hess Jr.’s family home in Leilani Estates was destroyed by lava earlier this month. Five generations of his family have lived there since the early 1970s.

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Victor Hoapili’s home was spared and now has a spectacular view.

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Lava spews from fissures near Victor Hoapili’s home.

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Above, lava spews from a fissure on Kahukai Street.

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Active lava fissures near what is now the end of Kahukai Street continued to spew lava several stories into the air. U.S. Geological Survey personnel monitored and recorded the event.

Eruptions from Kilauea Volcano have displaced thousands of Puna residents, devoured at least 50 structures and threatened dozens of others in its path.

Pockets of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens have experienced the brunt of the devastation, though there are others still unscathed and holding out hope.

David Hess Jr. has lived on Luana Street for 48 years. His parents built the fifth house in Leilani Estates in the early 1970s. It became a place of “refuge” for extended family, neighborhood kids and even exchange students over the years, he said. The family compound was the home of five generations and where at least a dozen family members were living up until May 4 when a fissure broke out in the front yard.

“That was where everyone would congregate and come to have parties. We had a big swimming pool,” he said. “They took anybody in. We fight like cats and dogs, but push comes to shove, the door never stays closed.”

The home is also where his father died in 2006 and his 3-year-old nephew succumbed to leukemia in 2011.

The family went back at least four times to check on the home after evacuating, but the last time there was nothing but a field of lava.

“My niece … and my daughter … fell down to their knees bawling. They just all broke. It was very devastating,” he said. “We were dumbfounded and shocked to see it gone. We built the house ourselves from the ground up. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s worse when we see the younger generation. That’s the hard part. It’s still a shock — a dream that I know I’m not going to wake up from.”

Despite the family’s huge loss, Hess’ sister Donna Walker, who lived at the home with her husband, four grandchildren and elderly aunt, said life must go on.

“Life doesn’t stop,” she said while making squid luau Thursday night for her granddaughter’s graduation. “My first thought was ‘ke ola hou,’ which is a new dawn. We realize we need to move on. If we dwell on it, it’s only going to eat us alive,” she said. “Our parents gave us our faith, and our faith is what’s taking us through this.”

Sixty-year-old Victor Hoapili moved to Leilani Estates in 2015 from Kalapana. He knew that the subdivision was a hot spot for lava but never imagined a massive lake of lava forming in his front yard.

“Mother Nature at her most grandest is in the front yard of my house here in Leilani Estates. The nighttime viewing is spectacular,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Wednesday. “It’s at the cusp of my little abode here. I have a couple of friends down there who lost their homes thus far. What’s fortunate for us is the berm is being built up, so the lake is going towards the water. That’s what’s saving us right now.”

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported Thursday three lava flows entering the ocean and continued eruptions in Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens. Another fissure had reactivated with more lava moving into the lush subdivision covering Kaupili and Mohala streets. There was also another eruption at the Kilauea summit with a plume as high as 10,000 feet, the HVO said.

Still, Hoapili is hoping his home on Kahukai Street will be spared.

“That’s a huge lava lake. The lava’s there ready to go do something, so when it makes its mind up and go, that’s when we’ll know,” he said. “It’s amazing, unforeseen. It just happens. You just got to go with the flow. What else can you do?”

Even though a lava flow is 5 miles away from Margie Aragon’s coastal home in Kapoho, you would never know it.

“The sky was beautiful, the sun was shining, the trades were blowing. Out here on the point it’s like nothing is happening,” she said. “We don’t get the gas, we don’t get the smoke, we don’t get the laze. We don’t hear the volcano.”

Everything seems perfectly normal at her home on Alapai Point Road until the nighttime, she said.

“When you look out the whole sky is red. It looks like the world is on fire,” Aragon said.

The volcanic activity might not have affected the home she’s lived in since 1989, but it is still having an effect on the 85-year-old, who suffers from asthma and congestive heart failure.

“You have all these feelings of anxiety. I’m sure it’s affecting my heart, the stress. Every day you don’t know what’s going to happen, whether the lava’s going to turn and come this way. It’s day to day when you wake up in the morning you say, ‘Am I going to have to leave my house and my memories today?’” she said. “I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to stay in my house this long. At 85 you don’t have much time left.”

Kilauea Lower East Rift Zone Fissures and Flows, May 24 by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd

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