PAHOA, Hawaii >> Hawaii County is warning the dwindling number of people living closest to lava flows and fountains in the Leilani Estates subdivision that they are now subject to arrest if they remain after about noon today.
Mayor Harry Kim issued the order Thursday.
The order gives the Leilani Estates holdouts, some of whom find it hard to abandon their homes or fear looting despite guarded entryways that restrict access, 24 hours until 12:06 p.m. to leave.
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If they don’t, they could be arrested by police, who are part of the teams managing checkpoints leading into and out of Leilani Estates.
However, the county stopped short of saying that law enforcement would go seeking residents and remove them from their homes.
“We’re not saying that,” said county spokeswoman Janet Snyder.
The order only covers more than half of the subdivision, including Pomaikai Street and everything east of it. There are an estimated 700 to 900 homes in the entire subdivision.
Leilani Estates was officially evacuated shortly after the May 3 eruption of Kilauea Volcano began, but Hawaii County Civil Defense officials have been allowing residents back in to the subdivision to retrieve belongings and check on their homes. And some still live there. Earlier this week there was an estimate that around 200 residents might still be there, mostly east of Pomaikai Street.
Holdout residents in the most dangerous areas were previously warned that they should not expect first responders coming to their aid in the event they need rescue. That followed search and rescue efforts on two nights earlier this week after fast-paced lava advanced. No one was harmed but one person needed help escaping.
Civil Defense officials are concerned about people being injured or killed especially if lava, which has been unpredictable as to its vigor and path, burns their house while they are sleeping. First responders also put their own lives in danger if they are called in to help save residents who ignored past evacuation orders that were described as mandatory.
This warning about the specific section of Leilani Estates residents being on their own was reiterated broadly Thursday.
Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, read a public service message broadcast on local radio stations throughout the day.
“Persons remaining in the mandatory evacuation area beyond the effective date and time of this order do so at their own risk with the knowledge that emergency responders may not respond,” he said.
Magno added that people who do not leave the designated area will be liable for any costs associated with rescue operations. “Refusing to evacuate may put you, your family and first responders in danger,” he said.
Earlier this week first responders marked homes in the area where residents were confirmed to be staying.
On Thursday, Hawaii National Guard Maj. Jeff Hickman said more residents appear to be heeding the call to leave, saying that patrols Wednesday night reported fewer residents in the area.
“Word is getting out,” Hickman said. “It was a ghost town.”
Star-Advertiser reporter Kevin Dayton contributed to this story.