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Hawaii News

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim loses home to lava

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Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim stepped outside before a community meeting Tuesday in Pahoa. The mayor’s Kapoho vacation home was destroyed by lava.

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Lava fountains continued Tuesday at fissure 8 near Pahoa on the Big Island. Lava destroyed hundreds more homes overnight, overtaking two oceanfront communities where residents were advised to evacuate last week, officials said Tuesday.

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Puna residents attended a community meeting about the latest volcanic developments Tuesday evening at Pahoa High & Intermediate School.

HILO >> Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim woke up during the early morning hours in his Hilo home Tuesday with a “sick sense” that something was wrong.

“He had a premonition this morning at 1:30 a.m. that something wasn’t right,” said Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe.

Kim called the emergency operating center at the Hawaii County Civil Defense building twice to check whether there were any updates concerning the lava activity in Kapoho and Vacationland.

At about 6 a.m. a firefighter who conducted an aerial flyover of the isolated areas informed Kim his waterfront home in Vacationland was one of many homes ravaged by lava. A second flyover by the Fire Department conducted in the afternoon confirmed the home was gone.

He purchased the property in 1971 for $5,000 because he wanted to be near the Waiopae Ponds. It was a place where he enjoyed relaxing in the water, fishing and spending time with his family.

Kim had plans to bequeath the home to his granddaughter and grandson.

Colleagues said the devastation to displaced residents and natural resources overrun by lava vastly outweighed Kim’s loss of his Vacationland home.

“Knowing Harry, it’s a sad time for all of us right now with what’s going on. We feel for everyone down in the Puna area,” Kossow said.

Gov. David Ige signed a second supplemental emergency proclamation Tuesday for housing and law enforcement provisions to ensure the health and safety of residents affected by the eruption activity.

“The lava flow has expanded and overrun more communities as it’s advanced, and earthquakes continue to rock the area. Hundreds of structures have been destroyed, including residential homes,” Ige said in a news release.

Ige, Kim and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are working closely to develop a housing plan and supplemental proclamation that would give Hawaii County more options for suitable shelters and rapid rehousing efforts.

At an informational community meeting held Tuesday at Pahoa High & Intermediate School’s cafeteria, Kim told a packed crowd of over 200, “Hang in there, people. We’ll get it done.”

The proclamation permits the governor and/or mayor to initiate housing and shelter assistance to include establishing guidelines for providing accommodations and shelters; identify county, state and private locations and facilities that could be used as shelters, relocation and rehabilitation support for displaced residents; and make state lands available for housing.

At the meeting, Talmadge Magno, administrator for Hawaii County Civil Defense, said it’s going to take the whole island to help recover from this incident.

Approximately 400 people are staying at shelters set up at the Pahoa Community Center and the Keaau Armory; the latter has reached capacity.

Planning Director Michael Yee told attendees of their coordination efforts with faith-based organizations to help find temporary housing for evacuees.

The county is also in the preliminary stages of seeking permanent housing and aims to expedite efforts to find them homes. “The goal is to help people rebuild their lives,” Yee said.

Hawaii County Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter said she spoke to Kim to express how sorry she was that his home was destroyed. “He’s such an amazing guy because his concern was not of that loss. He’s really concerned about the pond there, the fish management area and also the coral reefs.”

Those who resided in Kapoho and Vacationland enjoyed the tide pools, camping and fishing on the coast.

Okabe, who has a home in Hilo, confirmed Tuesday night that lava overtook his home in Kapoho, which had been in his wife’s family for over 35 to 40 years.

Like Kim, Okabe said his focus is centered on the hundreds of residents who lost their homes. “I still have a home. The mayor still has a house.”

He echoed Kim’s sentiment on their commitment to rebuild the community. “We’re going to get it done,” he said after the meeting ended.

Correction: Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim had plans to bequeath his home to his granddaughter and grandson. A previous version of this story wan unclear on who Kim wanted to pass his house on to.
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