PUNA, Hawaii >> Every other night Hannique Ruder climbs on top of her roof in Leilani Estates to check out the plume from fissure 8.
The tall, limber artist easily navigates the two-step process, climbing up a ladder from the lanai onto an eave, and then a few steps up another one, supporting herself with a cable, to scale up the sloped rooftop.
She does it, she said, “just to check it out.”
Ruder, 66, is a well-known member of the Leilani Estates community, having lived there for 32 years. A striking figure with long, wavy hair, she is greeted warmly by many who know her in Puna.
Although most of her neighbors have evacuated, she has decided to stay at her home on Malama Street and to wait it out. She is not in the area east of Pomaikai Street where evacuation became mandatory in May, but is within several blocks of fissure 8, which continues to be active, feeding a lava channel to the ocean at Kapoho.
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“I’m not going, because this is my home,” she said. “This is everything I have. Everything I worked for all my life is right here. Why would I leave?”
Hawaii County Civil Defense officials have no official estimate of the percentage of residents who have evacuated from Leilani Estates, which has 700 to 900 homes. But they are recommending everyone evacuate to stay safe from hazardous air conditions and the unpredictability of the eruption.
Ruder has moved her lifetime’s work of acrylic and oil paintings to another location for safekeeping but is otherwise carrying on with life as best as she can in her simple, loft-style home.
She designed the octagonal home on a square, 1-acre lot she purchased in the mid-’80s, which was a dream come true. It has a set of multihued steps, which she painted herself, leading to a front door and wraparound lanai. Outside, she cultivated a lush garden full of anthuriums, bromeliads, ferns and other greenery popular in floral bouquets, which were part of her nursery business.
But the plants are slowly dying, and business is on hold for now.
“Everything is dying,” she said. “Some things are dying fast and others are slowly. I’m not quite sure whether it’s acid rain or gas in the air.”
Some of her trees, for instance, dropped all their leaves overnight.
Her next-door neighbors have evacuated, as have those across the street and down the street.
“A lot of people trickled out,” she said. “At first, quite a few said, ‘We’re staying, and little by little they changed their minds.”
The surfer’s usual morning routine used to be a sunrise surf session at Pohoiki surf break, although that is no longer accessible.
Driving down the street, she passes many abandoned homes with rooftops and driveways covered with tephra, or small rock fragments produced by eruptions, along with Pele’s hair. Her own skylight is covered with Pele’s hair.
The reason she loves Leilani Estates, she said, is because of the people in the neighborhood. Four cats have also “adopted” her, and she is not going to leave them.
“It’s really lonely right now,” she said. “It’s really, really lonely.”
An ocean lover originally from the Netherlands, Ruder landed in Hawaii in the early 1970s by serendipity.
She and a friend were planning to travel to Ecuador but saw an ad in the newspaper for two one-way tickets to Hawaii. They bought the tickets, ended up working and living on Oahu’s North Shore and forgot about Ecuador. She moved on to Maui, where she met her first husband, got married and gave birth to her son on Kauai.
Long story short, she eventually moved to Hawaii island and settled in Puna.
Down the street, homeowner Ray Hemiroth, 70, has stayed, as has his tenant, Gregg Weideman, 68.
They said staying in the comfort of their own homes is preferable to staying in someone else’s home, even though friends have offered to take them in. They said they would never go to the shelter.
Weideman feeds needy or abandoned animals in the neighborhood, including cats, birds and pigs. He leaves food and water out in bowls but is careful to clean them.
While they still have electricity and water catchment systems, some issues include the lack of mobile phone connectivity because a cell tower burned down, poor quality of air and the uncertainty.
Sometimes Ruder has to stay indoors and close every door and window. She’s devised a homemade air purifier using a bucket of water, baking soda and an aquarium bubbler. Still, instead of so many barricades, she would like Leilani Estates residents to have more access to views of the lava in their own backyards.
Ruder described the sound of the lava “like big waves crashing” sometimes and a “kind of roaring” at other times.
“Sometimes you go, ‘Wow, there’s a dragon in the backyard,’” she said.
But she is not fearful of lava. Before Leilani Estates she lived in a rental home at Kalapana, which eventually succumbed to lava.
“I think it’s beautiful,” she said of the lava flow. “I feel totally safe standing 10 feet away from the river of lava. And also, when I lived in Kalapana, I walked out to the flow all the time. I thought it was so powerful, so beautiful and strong.”