The year that was 2018 might best be known in Hawaii for its explosions — the ones that did happen and the big one that didn’t.
Kilauea blew its top repeatedly this summer, blasting ash into the air and sending molten lava bursting from 24 vents in Lower Puna, disrupting thousands of lives, destroying millions of dollars’ worth of property and transforming the landscape over a dramatic four-month display of nature’s power.
The one that didn’t happen: the false missile alert. Whew!
Here are Hawaii’s top five news stories of 2018:
1. KILAUEA’S HISTORIC ERUPTION
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory started recording the physical signs of the impending crisis at least a couple of weeks before lava began to spill into the lush Lower Puna landscape May 3.
By the time Madame Pele’s latest outburst ended in August, lava covered 13.7 square miles, destroyed 716 homes, partially buried the Puna Geothermal Venture power plant, isolated 1,600 acres of farmland and caused damage by one estimate of more than $800 million.
As the summit of Kilauea collapsed into a heap of ash and smoke on what seemed like a near-daily basis, a 100-foot-tall cinder cone emerged over besieged Leilani Estates. At times spouting lava 200 feet or more in the air, fissure 8 would become the main source of a winding river of lava that vaporized Green Lake, destroyed seaside homes and filled in picturesque Kapoho Bay.
Over the four-month disaster, more than 2,000 residents were evacuated, the Puna economy was crippled and volunteers rallied to help their neighbors in need.
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2. FALSE MISSILE ALERT
Hawaii residents and visitors were shaken on the morning of Jan. 13 when a text alert warned of an incoming ballistic missile. “SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER,” it screamed. “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency did not retract the false alarm for 38 minutes in an episode that spread panic and ultimately anger across the islands.
State officials apologized and promised a full review. But they weren’t the only ones who wanted to get to the bottom of it. In the coming months state and federal hearings and multiple investigations and reports would criticize HI-EMA and recommend changes.
The fallout included the resignation of HI-EMA Administrator Vern Miyagi and Executive Director Toby Clairmont, plus the firing of the “button pusher,” an 11-year agency veteran who claimed he was poorly trained. Gov. David Ige took a major hit, but his political stock rebounded later in the year with a resounding re-election victory.
The incident was mocked by late-night comedians, and the wrenching stories of affected individuals were weaved into an interactive Kumu Kahua Theatre play, a short film and a documentary still in the works.
3. RECORD FLOODING, ACTIVE STORMS
Hawaii was slammed by some extreme storms this year, starting with a period of intense rainfall and flash flooding on Kauai and East Oahu on April 13-15.
Emergency crews rescued more than 200 people from their homes, and the Hanalei area was cut off from the rest of the island after landslides walloped Kuhio Highway. With homes and property damaged on two islands, the state Legislature approved $125 million in disaster funding, including $100 million for Kauai.
“It was fortunate and amazing that there were no deaths or reports of serious injuries,” a National Weather Service report said of the storm, which saw 49.69 inches of rain in 24 hours, a U.S. record for rainfall in a 24-hour period, pending verification.
In August, Honolulu was threatened by dangerous Category 5 Hurricane Lane, prompting an unprecedented level of storm preparations on Oahu. But after dumping more than 4 feet of rain and causing flooding on the east side of Hawaii island, the storm slowed, weakened and largely bypassed Oahu.
Strong gusts from Lane fueled a brush fire on Maui that destroyed 22 homes near Lahaina. Lingering rain bands from Lane also lashed Kauai and led to the death of a 30-year-old man who jumped into a swollen stream to save a dog.
A few weeks later Olivia entered the Central Pacific as a Category 1 hurricane before making landfall on Maui and Lanai as a tropical storm, the first tropical cyclone to hit those islands in the modern era.
4. HOTEL WORKERS TAKE TO PICKETING
From Oct. 8 to Nov. 27, some 2,700 hotel workers on Oahu and Maui walked off their jobs in a move that divided the community and dinged Hawaii’s tourism brand but ultimately scored wage increases and other benefits.
The job action was part of the national “one job should be enough” campaign waged against Marriott by local unions of Unite Here in Boston, Detroit and the California cities of San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego over wages and other common issues, including job safety and security, automation and technology.
Hawaii’s Local 5 targeted Marriott-managed Kyo-ya hotels, including the Sheraton Waikiki, Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Westin Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and Sheraton Maui.
The 51-day action was the longest hotel workers strike in the state since 1970 when International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers went on strike at neighbor island hotels for more than 10 weeks.
5. ASSISTED-DEATH BILL GETS APPROVAL
Hawaii became the seventh U.S. state to enact an assisted-death statute in 2018 following years of heated debate over the issue.
Modeled on Oregon’s groundbreaking Death With Dignity Act, the law allows qualified terminally ill adult residents of Hawaii who are mentally competent and with six months left to live to obtain a prescription for lethal medication.
The “Our Care, Our Choice” act was designed with a number of safeguards. Patients, for example, must make two separate appeals for medication, with a 20-day waiting period between the first and second requests. Also required is a written request overseen by two witnesses, one of whom is prohibited from being a beneficiary of the patient’s estate.
In public hearings lawmakers heard emotional testimony from both supporters and critics, and the governor signed the bill even as opponents delivered a petition with 18,000 signatures.
Retired lobbyist and cancer patient John Radcliffe, pictured above right with state Rep. John Mizuno, was the voice of the proposed act and is expected to be the first to take advantage of the law after it goes into effect Jan. 1.