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Flower growers seek help as flow continues

  • PHOTOS BY CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Volcanic debris was lodged in a pineapple plant in Leilani Estates on Saturday. At right, sulfur dioxide wafted through a stand of trees consisting mostly of ohia near Malama Street in Leilani Estates.

HILO>> For more than 20 years, Hawaiian Tropicals Direct grew numerous varieties of orchids on 10 acres in Kapoho, but as of June 3, the entire property and the owner’s home were ravaged by lava.

“It’s all gone,” said owner Mike Hughes.

Hughes, along with about 100 other farmers, including papaya growers and ornamental and tropical flower nursery owners, attended a disaster emergency resource meeting Friday at the U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo to help piece their businesses and lives together again.

The meeting, organized by the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, provided speakers and resources to help the growers get back on their feet, according to president Eric Tanouye.

“It’s a start,” said Tanouye, noting that the Kilauea eruptions have had a major impact on the industry. Another issue for the tropical floral industry is that the sole source of black cinder in Puna has had to vacate its harvesting plant. The black cinder in Puna is extracted from an extinct cone that is close to fissure 8, which remains very active. It is unknown when it might be usable again.

Cinder granules are commonly used for potted tropical plants, such as anthuriums and orchids.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources executed an emergency right-of-entry permit, which will allow access for raw cinder mining on an interim basis during Gov. David Ige’s emergency disaster declaration period.

The board of HFNA will vote sometime this week on whether to accept an agreement with DLNR on an alternative cinder pit at the border of Mauna Loa forest reserve.

Hughes of Hawaiian Tropicals said he hopes to get another orchid farm up and running again, although he will have to take it one step at a time. Hawaiian Tropicals employed a dozen families, he said, so he feels a sense of responsibility for establishing another farm as soon as possible.

“Right now, we have a river of lava flowing through the middle of our farm,” he said. “Our main concerns are land, of course, and then the financial ability to rebuild or restart.”

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported another volcanic explosion at Halemaumau Crater at 10:22 a.m. Saturday, with the energy of a 5.3 magnitude earthquake.

Fissure 8 in the lower East Rift Zone remained very active Saturday morning through evening, as lava continued to flow into the ocean. Fissure 16 was oozing, but there was no immediate threat, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, meanwhile, continues to rest at home, after suffering from a relapse of pneumonia, according to spokeswoman Janet Snyder.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said Saturday that loiterers caught in the closed East Rift Zone areas now face higher penalties.

Earlier this month, Gov. David Ige issued a supplemental proclamation that imposes fines of up to $5,000 and potentially a year in jail for people convicted of loitering in a closed area.

“I find there is a need to strengthen the enforcement tools available to county and state emergency management officials in controlling public access to dangerous areas and associated evacuation efforts as a result of the failure of the public to comply with instructions and orders issued by officials,” Ige said in a statement.

Prior to the enactment of more severe penalties, officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement had issued more than three dozen citations.

Officers issued another dozen citations over the past 10 days to individuals from Keaau as well as Kamuela, Pahoa and California. The loiterers were cited at Lava Tree State Park, MacKenzie State Recreation Area and Coconut Grove.

Some of those cited over the past week and a half could face the new penalties if convicted. The ages of the suspects cited for loitering in a closed area were not immediately available.

Residents of Hawaii County who suffered damage or losses from the recent eruption and earthquakes can register for disaster assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the Disaster Recovery Center, which is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Keaau High School Gym.

More information, including an application checklist detailing the information that will be required, is available at DisasterAssistance.gov.

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