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Evacuated Leilani Estates residents cleared to return home


    A sandbar, comprised of black sand and lava fragments carried by longshore currents from the lava delta, continues to block the boat ramp at Isaac Hale Beach Park in this photo taken Aug. 31.

More than two months after flowing lava and volcanic gas prompted county officials to evacuate Leilani Estates in Puna, residents of the subdivision will be able to return to their homes today.

In addition, MacKenzie State Recreation Area and Malama Ki Forest Reserve, which have been closed since the advent of Kilauea’s most recent eruption in May, will also reopen today.

Entry into Leilani Estates will remain restricted to residents and authorized personnel. The entire flow field plus a 50-yard perimeter remains off-limits, and residents with property within that perimeter must request a waiver from Hawaii County Civil Defense to return.

“Leilani Estates was evacuated to preserve health and safety and to protect residents until the hazards were reduced from the eruption,” Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim said in a news release Friday. “We are happy residents can return to their homes but caution everyone to stay vigilant and be prepared as conditions can change rapidly.”

Civil Defense officials advised returning residents that first responder services could be delayed due to limited access points and road conditions.

The Leilani Estates Community Center will be open at 9 a.m. today with personnel from Civil Defense and the Leilani Community Association available to provide information to returning residents.

Hawaii Electric Light crews have been removing damaged equipment, conducting damage assessments and making necessary repairs in preparation for a restoration of power to the subdivision.

The work will be done in phases, with areas that suffered minimal damage scheduled to have power restored first. Hawaii Electric Light officials said that depending on the extent of damage sustained, some homes could have power back within a few days.

Residents are asked to avoid areas where electrical work is being performed.

While the MacKenzie State Recreation Area and Malama Ki Forest Reserve are reopening — with a 50-meter buffer from lava flows in effect for the latter — state officials reminded the public that anyone venturing into the restricted zone is still subject to citation or arrest for loitering in a disaster zone. More than 90 people were cited over the past few months, when the entire area was off-limits. They also urged the public to use extreme caution while exploring the new coastline.

“We expect a significant number of people will be wanting to explore the newly created beaches on the unencumbered lands north of MacKenzie State Recreation Area,” said Gordon Heit, Hawaii island’s land agent, in a news release. “People need to use extreme caution when approaching the water. In some locations, steep, unstable cliffs were formed by recent lava flows and they drop into very deep water where ocean currents are very unpredictable.”

The park, a gateway to Pohoiki, crosses some rough terrain, so officials encourage hikers, sight­seers and oceangoers to be prepared with water, sun protection and sturdy footwear. The Pohoiki boat ramp was never closed during the eruption, but is now surrounded by a new black-sand beach which cuts it off from the ocean.

Officials from the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation plan to assess the boat ramp next week to determine whether it can be used again or whether a new ramp will need to be built at another location along the lower Puna coast.

Lava Tree State Monument remains closed due to damage from earthquakes.

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