Letter: Lava Emergency Affects Puna Residents

Dear Editor,

I was lucky in I983 to see Pu’u O’o fountaining while visiting my folks in Leilani Estates.  Residents and tourists alike witnessed as Pele covered Kamoamoa, Waha’ula, Royal Gardens, Queen’s Bath and Kalapana.  During this volatile and spectacular time in Pele’s history, Harry Kim was Civil Defense, a calm cool breeze to the people who were losing their homes to the hot lava. Residents were included every step of the way, and Mr. Kim probably spent more time in Kalapana then at home.

In contrast, Act 111 establishes an indefinite emergency state in Puna to hopefully receive federal money to help pay for Big Island lava woes.  Terrified residents start relocating immediately after attending a public meeting with fantasy HVO computer generated images of lava projections maps with blue flames covering Hawaiian Beaches, Ainaloa and Paradise Park.  Reputable mags like Newsweek had the lava crossing the highway and burning homes.  TV and Civil Defense screamed about dangerous lava, while politicians, newsmen, and comedians-turned-bully-advisors toured it.  To “protect” the rights and privacy of a few and “prevent” injuries to the foolish, Pahoa was split apart creating financial hardships to businesses, pedestrians, bus riders, as well as a traffic and logistical nightmare for Puna. This community has and is still is paying a very high price.

Stepping back, I am fully aware that potentially affected infrastructure, commercial districts, schools and housing density is much greater than in Kalapana days.   I am also aware that our Hawaii lawmakers and planners approved those homes, schools and shopping centers, some along lines of steepest descent (blue lines).  Thirdly, Kilauea is an active volcano, which has continually flowed over our Puna landscape for eons.

So, back to the subject, overnight hundreds of school children were forcibly relocated, and how many more households moved due to cancellation of Section 8 housing (shades of genocide?).  Pahoa’s Community Center was taken away from the community and appropriated to Civil Defense.  Our seniors were kicked out of their center and that was given back to the Fire Department.  The new skate park was barricaded and the center of quaint old Pahoa was and still is being used as our trash dump.

Lava changed direction, and although no formal evacuation was ever ordered, for some strange reason, on the same day, in graceful unison, all corporate businesses (Malama Market, Ace Hardware, Lex Brodies, Malama Gas Station, Subway and Longs Drugs) packed their bags and left town.  This was while the flow was still over a half-mile away.

Lava changed direction again, but now months of no large grocery, pharmacy, hardware, tire repair, and miles and hours lost waiting with the rest of lower Puna in the gridlock that may not have happened if the powers in charge had a more relaxed and steady approach, kind of like Pele.  Oh, and so you know, the County is charging Puna HeleOn bus riders an extra $1 per bag for groceries they need to buy in Keaau or Hilo and carry home to Pahoa since the market closed.

How much money do Hawaii keiki owe for this current lava emergency? How are we financing this? How will we get back the 22.2 million dollars taken from our Pahoa park fund?  Is the geothermal relocation money still in the bank (since mayor stopped relocation)?  Has government poached monies meant for other Puna projects?   All of this and Pele has only taken one home.   We need some answers right away!

Sara Steiner

13 replies
  1. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Dear Sara- I simply don’t get your point.
    Almost every issue you point to was done with thoughtful, measured caution.
    The lava temporarily stopped. We didn’t know.
    You make it sound like prudent caution is the enemy.
    You make it sound like there is a conspiracy to hurt Puna residents by some unnamed county evil.
    I’m glad that the gas station and hardware store were emptied, given the toxic contents.
    I’m glad arrangements were made for school students continued education.
    I’m glad the county used the community center for our Civil Defense. The center was not “taken away from us.”
    I’m glad the Fire department stayed available for lower Puna in their old location, protecting everyone including the elderly.
    I’m glad county transfer station facilities were made
    available without interruption.
    Are you glad that the Burger King that stayed?
    I’m personally glad that corporate chain businesses left. Wish they would stay away so small sustainable local business could thrive.
    (Puna pharmacy vs Longs for example.)
    While I think buses should be free, the bag charge isn’t new, wasn’t implemented due to lava, it’s been in place for years.
    Back to your main point; I mostly appreciate the caution with which the county has operated given the clear unknowability of the very close lava threat.
    I too hung out with Harry Kim when Kaimu was being taken, and he personally helped a family member relocate to Opihikao, for what it is worth, and I think Olivera also is doing a good job.
    Residents have been included every step of the way.
    I wish you had raised the relevant $ issues separately from this mishmash of conspiratorial innuendo.
    I just don’t understand your complaining.

  2. Sara Steiner
    Sara Steiner says:

    Dear Kelly,

    The relevant $$ is directly related to all of my post. How much money has been spent in this frantic response in the name of “safety”. Now I’m hearing he school kids were moved to the tune of some $9 million bucks (I had heard $6 before), ok, yes I am glad they were safe, but now the emergency drill is over let them go home, let the teachers have a choice where they want to teach. Don’t make them stay there just to justify the overspending.

    Residents are not included every step of the way, that stopped early on in community meetings. Billy even said he didn’t need to come talk story with the residents living this side of flow because he already “talks story” with someone who I guess tells him everything we are thinking and feeling.

    We can’t live in a constant state of emergency, and preemptively clear out entire communities every time the lava points in that direction (whether by scary maps with ground zero deadlines or canceling insurance or county housing). Let’s study how the lava moves, how fast, how far, how long. Really, those businesses moved out so quickly, and so early on that it is not sustainable to preemptively act, because now what if the lava actually does come back, closer this time?

    The Community Center has been empty and had caution tape around it since CD took it then left, what happened to all the groups who held classes and activities? Where did the seniors go? For some of them it was probably their only hot meal and exercise.

    There was and is no reason that we needed to make the dump right there in the middle of Pahoa. We could have easily easily easily had the dump anywhere, plenty of vacant State land or wealth churches would help, I’m sure. And those poor poor recycle workers, sitting in the dust and stench of the dump for how long now??? If this was Hilo, or Kona, you know darn well this wouldn’t have happened. They respect their seniors and community members too much.

    The County of Hawaii and the State of Hawaii cannot expect the federal government to pay for lava emergencies created by their own bad planning. The federal money is to help with these terrible wind storms created by climate change and exacerbated by humans.


    When Pele does finally come to visit, then we will be very happy to have our own National Guard help with the actual evacuations and other safety concerns, but we don’t need them patrolling and guarding private property for months on end (at our expense) and unable to work their own regular jobs.

    And for goodness sakes, we need to stop arresting people and prosecuting them for trying to see the lava. There are fire breaks roads bulldozed all around, on State land no less, let the physically fit people sign a release and walk out a bit to see it. Make their entire trip lovely and full of aloha.

    We, collectively, need to figure out how we can live with Pele, and let the tourists who come from around the world, some of them spending their entire incomes, see the lava (an old couple last week at Jungle Love was heartbroken). Paint that big blimp like a tropical fish and let it float up there on a string (safely) so people can get a nice panorama of the lava and quaint Pahoa while they sip a cool drink and snack. Let people singe their postcards and send to their friends. Love is what is going to save us Kelly, not more huge government interference.

    Let’s face it, our legislators and planners -ucked up royally when they permitted building out here, but now we are out here and some of us want to stay. And no I don’t eat at Burger King, and yes I wish it was another health food store. And I used Puna Pharmacy for years until they left…

  3. Sara Steiner
    Sara Steiner says:

    I apologize for yelling, I am just tired of the residents of lower Puna being treated like little pieces on some big game board. I live here and work here and talk to a lot of people. The issues I raise are concerns from the community and visitors, not some conspiracies in my head.

    I also have a hard time trusting an agency that told people to evacuate from PGV gasses to the Pahoa Community Center in the middle of a hurricane. The poor hazmat dudes who tried to respond got caught between fallen albezias and had to spend the night in their fire truck. They got rescued the next morning by helicopter. How many in the community passed out from the toxic gasses released that evening?

    You can only cry Wolf so many times…

  4. Puna Ohana
    Puna Ohana says:

    You tell it how it is Sara. There will always be those who think the gov. can do no wrong when reality it’s just the opposite, they do the most wrong.
    I’m disappointed Pele didn’t come and take out Woodless Park, Longs/BK, Ugly eyesore at the gate of Pahoa should never have been built. That just plain bad taste/design.

    The making of viewing lava illegal is just insane if it’s not a gov. ‘conspiracy’ or CONTROL excuse. 30+ years ago when I walked out 5 miles from CoC Road to meet Pele there was NO NG, NO CD, NO cops, NO control, NO arrests, NO big deal. Just natural beauty.

    It’s confusing to me how this is all now under gov. control, or at least THEY think so. They look more to me like chickens with their heads cut off running around the yard.
    But now we have the internet and everyone has a video camera on their phone so everyone who’s ego runs their life is a STAR! In their own mind. My first picture of lava was on an SX70 Polaroid camera. Watching Billy do his standup routine at those meetings, via the web, ended up being a repeat performance week after week. Boring.
    He only has one stick, it ain’t entertaining anymore.

    Has the Planing Dept put a moratorium on Building Permits in Zone 1&2? No? so they add to the future problems of Puna residents right? Way to go gov.
    In these Orwellian Times the horse is following the cart.
    Just like in HPP where they drop crap material on the roads then want to try to mitigate it by erecting dust fences??? S.F.B.
    We have some real unqualified people running things, but that’s nothing new. Giving them more power to do more stupid things? That’s a problem.

    All that you say Sara is true, you know it I know it, many who are awake know it. Still many are oblivious because they follow in lockstep to the beat of their authoritarians.

  5. adam
    adam says:

    Sara, Your bull. The national guard needs to be around u know why? because thats the ONLY thing that is protecting elderly and young people from having there houses completely jacked because some people think its okay to go rob people while stuff like this is going on. The state of emergency and all the national guard is here for a reason. That is protecting the community from bad people who would take advantage of a weak time in our community like this. I my self have seen this happen as very good friends lived right next to the transfer station. They had to leave and as soon as they did every single last rock of red cinder was taken from their property by there so called friendly neibors. Please stop bull shitting thanks!

  6. Sara Steiner
    Sara Steiner says:

    We should have the national guard guarding empty homes? I used to think that too, all those empty houses with no one to guard them after the first move out. That was in October something when everybody left the first time I’m just realizing though that how long can we have the National Guard watching our private property is well somebody else has to be hired to do their regular jobs while we are going to pay them? it would be cheaper to have private security companies. What if this goes on for like 30 years do we hire the National Guard to watch the empty houses.

  7. Sara Steiner
    Sara Steiner says:

    I’m sorry your friends red cinder got stolen but if I remember correctly that whole area was totally guarded this whole time even to this day by policemen and the National Guard when they were here. There is no way that we can expect the government to take care of all the empty houses that are going to happen over the next however many years this is going to take that is my point we’re going to have to figure it out you know. that’s why we all need to meet and talk about it. I had this kind of conversation with the neighborhood watch lady at the community meetings because what is the point of neighborhood watch watching neighbors homes when you can’t call the police and report a burglar at your neighbors house because police will only take a report from the homeowner themselves not from your neighbor who’s watching your house. Sorry I’m at work and I’m just using my iPhone with dictation so I’ll stop now ; )

  8. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Dear Sara, my response to your initial response to me;
    p1- I agree that the $ for temp buildings in Keaau were off the charts. And I agree with you, the students are safe.
    p2-Residents are notified daily by one or more updates from the county. I don’t see how we could be more informed.
    p3- I don’t know of any ‘entire communities cleared out’.
    Who are you referring to?
    p3- I have been attending meetings at the community center.
    It is open and being used. What are you talking about?
    p4- Recycle workers are always subject to their nasty work environments, regardless of location or lava inundation. What are you talking about?
    What evidence are you providing to support your contention that our seniors in Hilo are treated better than our seniors in Pahoa? I don’t “know darn well” your allegation.
    p5+6 You seem to be saying that the county should have prohibited all structures to be built in lower Puna. Is that really your position?
    No Pahoa to begin with? The county should have prevented all development in Puna?
    Your take on fed $ is simply incoherent
    and self contradicting.
    Last point; why not name the person you believe to be responsible for Pele’s inundation and the precautionary evacuation of homes and businesses. Why not?
    Govt is simply how a community organizes.
    I care about the quality of govt.
    The ‘size’ of govt is irrelevant if the quality is excellent. It is how we collectively operate.
    It is only bad if it is bad, not because it’s the govt.
    I live here and work here and talk to a lot of people.
    I don’t want county $ spent on rescuing tourists out on the lava. Do you?
    Oh yeah, maybe they will shop at Jungle Love.
    But that then would be a govt subsidy,
    ‘welfare’ for a business, no?

  9. Puna Ohana
    Puna Ohana says:

    yea the NG did a great job after Iselle, drove by and waived. There wasn’t a whole lot of lawlessness. Not anymore than usual. People need to turn of their TVs, they’ll believe any bullshit these days. This whole movie is exaggerated beyond sanity.

  10. Sara Steiner
    Sara Steiner says:

    Hi Kelly,

    I’m not naming any names because there has been only suggestions from various employees that “headquarters” decided to move. My observations from talking to all types of employees and shoppers were that it all happened at the same day, maybe same hour even, just seems to me too coincidental.

    True, I have attended one night meeting about PGV drilling there at our Community Center, and testified once on County Council matters in the Health room, but on a whole, as I drive by there almost daily, I still see caution tape and the rooms closed. Not like before the emergency. Lots of homeless and hanger-outers and a security guard.

    The communities I am talking about are mainly Hawaiian Beaches and Hawaiian Shores, though I have had persons talking frequently about empty houses, squatting and looting in Nanawale and Leilani Estates also.

    If you listen to the radio you are notified daily of lava updates. If you have internet you can go to HVO or CD. Many people do not understand what scattered surface breakouts are, or upslope breakouts 2mi from vent and like to see visual pictures. Unfortunately maps updated not super often (I’m not talking about old maps with a bunch of dots moving around), especially the large Puna map showing all subdivisions and all breakouts. Some people who are really focused on their life tasks are not even aware what blue lines are and are now buying houses located in blue line paths and are not being informed by realtors.

    Many people trust the government to “save them” and make their decisions for them because they are busy trying to make a living. When they go to a lava update meeting produced and directed by our partners in charge, and see very realistic scale maps of lava and blue flames covering their subdivisions they somehow think this is what is going to be happening very soon.

    I did apologize for being angry a few posts earlier when I said how can I trust an agency who orders evacuation of deadly hydrogen sulfide gassing in the middle of a hurricane when hazmat rescuers had to get rescued themselves.

    I am trying to be general here, about who is in charge of the government agencies that are making decisions in a way that is very commendable on the side of caution, while on the other hand, has spent exorbitant amounts of money on some perhaps unnecessary stuff, and doesn’t seem to realize this may go on for eons and we in Pahoa want our community center, senior center and new park that we have been waiting so long for.

    You, meaning government, don’t take away our stuff, we need it. You are the government, you can go set up your mobile command centers and dumps somewhere outside of a village that needs to be left alone to prosper. Our government today is not simply how we as citizens organize it, it is a conglomeration of corporate partners. And yes, we as citizens are ultimately responsible for our governments actions as they are immune, and we should be able to vote out offenders. But, we all see how that is working out for us, we can’t even get more than 2 parties on a televised debate, the media corporation takes care of that.

    The older woman who works at recycle was complaining about the stench and dust when I was there 2 weeks ago. I am sorry I didn’t get her name. I personally went several months ago to recycle store and was totally gagged by dump stench because the wind blows that way.

    I really did not want to name names, but if that would make anyone feel better I will give you a couple. 1) I guess I am blaming Billy Kenoi, as being in charge of everything that is and ever will be as long as he is mayor of Hawaii Island due to Act 111 (or more appropriately Act !!!), Darryl Olivera, as being head of Civil Defense (actually HEMA as in FEMA if you google Hawaii Civil Defense). And, whoever is in charge at the DOE (who do not seem to give a flying -uck about what parents or teachers want to do about the lava situation) and keeps children in little pods in various Puna school parking lots indefinitely without choice.

    You know, if we have to rescue a tourist now and then, the cost will way way way be overshadowed by the outpouring of love and aloha around the earth afforded by the Lava Nazi State of Hawaii changing their position and offering live lava viewing. Let the tour companies get insurance if they offer lava tours. If we all have our Obamacare card like we should, we’ve got insurance. Tourists who can afford to travel most likely have their own insurance provided by their own job or government anyway.

    If CD was really interested in protecting the lives of citizens, they would make our highways safer by installing traffic lights, crosswalks and lower the speed limits on our highways around the island because infinitely more souls are lost there than ever by someone trying to see lava.

    I’m gonna stop now. But I will be happy to continue dialog about my opinions anytime ; )

  11. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    “Our government today is not simply how we as citizens organize it, it is a conglomeration of corporate partners. And yes, we as citizens are ultimately responsible for our governments actions as they are immune, and we should be able to vote out offenders. But, we all see how that is working out for us, we can’t even get more than 2 parties on a televised debate, the media corporation takes care of that.”
    Aloha Sara – This, your, analysis is great.
    I tend to apply it more to the macro.
    I want to think that Monsanto (as a metaphor) isn’t pressuring Olivera. But actually I know Monsanto is pressuring Russel Brand, I mean Ruderman,
    he says so himself. So, yeah, plutocracy, fascist (corporate controlled govt), kleptocracy…gov’t captured by the wealthy elite. That clearly takes away our choices.
    That is bad govt.
    Because we are addressing such local issues I quess I want to look through a lens that appreciates local public servants that seem to be doing good. I feel well informed about the lava etc, and I think you may be underestimating public literacy; “Many people do not understand what scattered surface breakouts are, or upslope breakouts 2mi from vent and like to see visual pictures.” The visual pictures is true for many of us, but I question your beginning assertion.
    In terms of traffic fatalities issues, this is called a false equivalency. Besides, if we are being ‘scientific’ we should be advocating for roundabouts, not stop lights, for safety.
    I don’t know what you mean by ‘evacuation of hydrogen sulfide in the middle of a hurricane’, but I’m guessing you agree that PGV lies to us, insults us, and poisons us

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *