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Hawaii County police nab squatter in unfinished Leilani Estates home

  • GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Members of the media observed a river of lava Thursday at the intersection of Leilani Avenue and Moku Street in Leilani Estates.

  • STAR-ADVERTISER

    Harry Kim

PAHOA, Hawaii >> Looky-loos trying to get closer to the Kilauea eruption aren’t the only trespassers sneaking into restricted neighborhoods in lower Puna, where most of the volcanic activity has been occurring.

Squatters — long a problem in the wide-open rural area even before lava burst to the surface in Leilani Estates May 3 — also appear to be heading into communities devastated by flows.

Hawaii County police said Thursday they arrested a 36-year-old woman in Leilani Estates after they discovered she apparently had taken up residence in an unfinished house under construction on Alapai Street.

The homeowner, who has had problems in the past with other unauthorized people occupying the property, contacted officials after encountering Jami Leonard on Thursday morning, police said.

Officers found Leonard, who has no permanent address, within the structure, which is in a county-designated zone restricted to residents because of safety concerns.

Leonard was charged with first-degree criminal trespass, loitering and refusal to evacuate. At last report, she remained at the Detention Center in Hilo awaiting a court appearance after failing to post $750 bail.

Police and Department of Land and Natural Resources conservation officers have cited at least 74 people for loitering in the lower East Rift Zone where the eruption is taking place.

County spokeswoman Janet Snyder confirmed Thursday that some chronically homeless individuals are staying at the American Red Cross emergency shelters set up for Kilauea eruption evacuees, but that no one is being turned away.

Also Thursday, a briefing by the U.S. Geological Survey revealed that lava pouring into Kapoho Bay has reached a depth of almost 200 feet, a further indication of the high-volume output from fissure 8 in Leilani Estates.

As of Wednesday, the lava shelf reaching into the ocean off Kapoho had grown to 370 acres, according to Mike Zoeller, a geologist with the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Fissure 8 has proven such an effective conduit for magma coursing through the lower East Rift Zone that is has stabilized volcanic activity in the region, reducing flows at other vents and lessening the risk of new ones opening, Zoeller said.

“Right now we’re not seeing any real changes to that rate,” he said.

The fissure also is producing 165- to 180-foot-high fountains at last report and feeding an 8-mile-long channel of lava to the Kapoho coastline.

Minor spattering was observed at fissures 6, 15 and 16.

Despite fissure 8’s starring role in the Kilauea eruption that has covered nearly 10 square miles, destroyed 598 homes and displaced hundreds of residents, officials aren’t ready to consider giving it a more permanent name, said U.S. Geological Survey spokeswoman Leslie Gordon.

The Puu Oo vent of Kilauea, which has been continuously erupting since 1983, was dubbed after consultation with Native Hawaiian elders, Gordon said.

The federal Board of Geographic Names could take similar action with regard to fissure 8 upon request of the local community. Any name would be based on a recommendation from Native Hawaiians, she said. Thursday also saw the Kilauea summit and surrounding areas rattled by a 5.4 magnitude earthquake about 1:13 p.m. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory officials said the gas explosion sent up a small ash plume.

The seismic event was one of thousands of magnitude 2.5 or higher shakes that have taken place at the summit in recent weeks. Zoeller said it’s not clear yet whether the explosions are being caused by the continuing collapse of the Halemaumau Crater or vice versa.

In related updates:

>> Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim checked out of Hilo Medical Center after suffering his sixth heart attack last week and was at the Civil Defense Agency’s Emergency Operations Center Thursday morning. Kim surprised everyone by appearing at the morning briefing and was very encouraging, according to county spokeswoman Janet Snyder.

>> The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that 1,015 people affected by the eruption sought assistance online, by phone or in person at its Disaster Recovery Center, open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Keaau High School. The U.S. Small Business Administration has handled 381 federal disaster loans, which are available to small businesses and households. Representatives from state and county agencies also are available.

>> Free medical, dental and eye care will be available today and Saturday at Tropic Care 2018 at Keaau High School between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Free breakfast and lunch will be available for children and the clinic is open to all, regardless of whether they are affected by the eruption.

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