Parade and lava museum revive hopes for Pahoa’s future
By Dan Nakaso email@example.com
Dec. 2, 2018
Saturday’s eclectic Pahoa Holiday Parade — the 25th to run down Pahoa Village Road through the heart of the small rural town — carried the hopes of a community still struggling in the aftermath of Kilauea Volcano’s destructive eruption this year.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
PAHOA, Hawaii >> Saturday’s eclectic Pahoa Holiday Parade — the 25th to run down Pahoa Village Road through the heart of the small rural town — carried the hopes of a community still struggling in the aftermath of Kilauea Volcano’s destructive eruption this year.
Previous parades often featured volcano themes, but this year — with a downturn in tourism and so many people still without permanent homes — the focus was on children.
It’s just too soon to make light of Madame Pele, said Dean Kelley, parade chairman, referring to the Hawaiian volcano goddess.
“We kinda sorta wanted to stay away from that,” Kelley said. “People were traumatized. We need to celebrate Pahoa. It’s our unique little town.”
In a sign of community pride, a record 50 entries registered for Saturday’s parade, far outnumbering the usual 30 or so, Kelley said. They included school marching bands, kids dressed as Christmas presents, a contingent of rangers from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, horseback riders, an outrigger canoe, farm vehicles and people blowing conch shells and strumming ukulele.
Mayor Harry Kim, barely a week out of surgery to relieve an artery blockage in his legs, felt it was important to attend Saturday’s parade.
He walked part of the parade route and caught a ride down Pahoa Village Road on the hood of a Mustang that carried children inside.
“You can feel that people want to go and have things to celebrate,” Kim said. “It’s Christmas and they’re still trying to see the bright side of things, to project that we’re going forward.”
At the same time, people in Lower Puna who were closest to the now-quiet lava flows are still adjusting to the “new normal,” he said.
“There is a realization that ‘normal’ will never come back. For many yet, they are still in a transition period to the future.”
At Kelley’s business, Pahoa Used Books & Movies on Pahoa Village Road, sales are down 50 percent.
But out of more than 75 retail businesses in town, Kelley is one of the lucky survivors.
Matt Purvis, president of the Pahoa Main Street Association and owner of Tin Shack Bakery, said some businesses are reporting losses up to 90 percent since the eruption began on May 3.
“I’ve had to go into credit just to pay (employees),” Purvis said. “I hope that 2019 will bring us back, for those of us who made it.”
Pahoa’s business owners are placing their hopes in the new Pahoa Lava Zone Museum, which had its soft opening following Saturday’s hourlong parade.
Amedeo Markoff, owner of Puna Gallery and Gift Emporium where business is also off by half, looked out of the Pahoa Lava Zone Museum he organized and pointed at empty storefronts.
“There was a Realtor there,” he said. “That used to be a pizza parlor and there was a Thai food place there. …
“There are two disasters here: the lava disaster and the ongoing economic disaster. The economy is suffering,” Markoff said.
Use of the one-story building that houses the museum was donated by Leslie Lai, who owns Kaleo’s Bar & Grill next door and is also paying the museum’s utility costs.
“She wants to help the community,” Markoff said.
The approximately 1,000-square-foot museum has five exhibits on display that were loaned from the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, which was severely damaged by thousands of eruption-related earthquakes that rocked the park from May to August.
The museum also features chunks of lava from this year’s eruption, and Markoff hopes people donate more samples in the hopes of attracting tourists who stayed away after Kilauea erupted and then went dormant in early August.
In all, the eruption opened 24 fissures that covered more than 6,000 acres of land in Lower Puna, destroyed nearly 720 homes in the Leilani Estates and Kapoho areas, and buried or isolated more than 1,600 acres of farmland.
The result has been “both an absence of tourists and an absence of our residents,” said state Sen. Russell Ruderman (D, Puna), who owns the Island Naturals food store in the heart of Pahoa. “We lost a third of our population, so Pahoa is still an economically depressed area. Many farms were lost, many jobs were lost. It was just a massive impact both psychologically and financially.”
At Ruderman’s store, “Our business remains down about 40 percent compared to where we normally would be at this time,” he said.
Business “has been inching back up — emphasis on inching.”
Near Island Naturals, lava evacuees such as Shaun Oneil, 38, and his father, Jeff Oneil, are hoping a better future for themselves will begin early next year when the elder Oneil finishes building a new home in the Black Sand Beach subdivision.
For now they’re living in one of 20 “tiny homes” that went up quickly in the aftermath of the eruption for elderly and disabled people. The homes are collectively known as the Sacred Heart Shelter, named after its location near Pahoa’s Catholic church, which is providing the land.
Shaun Oneil has a debilitating arthritic condition and relies on a wheelchair.
The eruption “shook my life a little bit,” he said with a wry smile.
He said he is grateful for the housing and support provided by the nonprofit organization HOPE Services Hawaii.
“Here, it’s great,” Oneil said. “We’ve got shelter and support and a community.”
His neighbor, Jane Whitefield, 77, said Sacred Heart Shelter represents a much-needed temporary place to regroup for her and her cat, Sassy.
Even though she’s still looking for four of her cats, Whitefield called her new living situation “wonderful.”
“It’s meant everything,” she said.
So Saturday’s parade — followed by the museum opening and the first post-parade hoolaulea — represented equal parts celebration and community catharsis.
“It brings people together,” said lava evacuee Joe Horbath of Pohoiki.
As Horbath toured the Pahoa Lava Zone Museum with his wife, mother and twin 6-year-old boys, he said, “We need to work together to bring people back over here. That would be nice.”