Volcanic gases rise from the Kilauea lava flow that crossed Pohoiki Road near Pahoa, Hawaii, May 28. CNS photo/Marco Garcia, Reuters

Displaced residents ask for prayers after lava forces Hawaiians out of homes

  • May 31, 2018

HONOLULU – Paul and Rose Utes, members of Sacred Heart Parish in Pahoa, had to leave their home when lava from the Kilauea eruptions moved into their section of the Leilani Estates subdivision in Puna on the Big Island.

At the time they heard the mandatory evacuation order, the couple, who own Black Rock Cafe in Pahoa, were prepping to cater food for Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva's parish visit that first weekend in May.

While the Utes were at their house retrieving their belongings, a fissure opened up across the street, sending a hot lava fountain shooting into the air. They later returned for a few more more things and to get some of their dogs that had run off after the fissure explosion. But with the road to their home fairly inaccessible, they haven't been back recently.

"It's just frustrating not knowing what's going on around your house," Paul told the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Honolulu's diocesan newspaper, in a May 23 interview.

More than 2,500 people have been been forced to leave their homes and at least 82 homes have been destroyed by lava flowing from Kilauea Volcano since its latest eruption May 3. More than 2,200 acres have been covered by the molten rock and at least 24 fissures have opened up, sending magma to the ocean and expelling poisonous sulphur dioxide gas.

While emergency shelters have been set up, Paul Utes said they haven't accepted much relief support beyond temporarily staying in a friend's home because they feel there are other people who need it more. Their business hasn't been much affected by the eruptions so far. And they have insurance, though they still have to pay the mortgage on a house they can't live in.

The Utes, who have lived in Leilani Estates since 1991, now need to find a long-term place to stay.

"I don't want these houses. I want my house," Paul recalled his wife saying sadly as they drove around looking at potential rental properties that would allow their six dogs.

"If everybody could just keep all the people affected in their prayers," Paul asked. "I know a lot of people that lost their houses and need help. And they're devastated. And I know quite a few people who didn't have insurance and lost their houses."

Sacred Heart parishioners Richard and Nancy Robbins also live in Leilani Estates, but are four or five streets north of the current lava activity.

"God has looked out after us," Richard said.

While Hawaii County issued an evacuation order to subdivision residents, some residents like the Robbinses have gone back to living in their homes. They moved from Miami to Hawaii 19 years ago and love Leilani. Now they regularly drive around the subdivision checking on the homes of friends and neighbours.

"It's one thing hearing about it, one thing seeing pictures on TV," Richard said, but another to be there. "We got halfway down a street and we realized that (the rest of the) street didn't exist anymore."

Richard said fellow parishioners have been wonderful. One couple offered their deployed son's home as a temporary residence. The parish food bank asked if they needed food. A non-Catholic local friend has also offered their home further away on the island for Richard and Nancy if and when they might need to leave Leilani again.

"We aren't in any need, but it's nice to hear people ask you, even if you don't need it," Richard said.

"Leilani is a very, very tight community," he added. "I'm just hoping we can survive. I don't want to have to leave Hawaii."

At Sacred Heart Parish in Pahoa town, you might not know there's major volcanic activity going on just a few kilometres away if not for the busy parking lot full of news crews and aid workers, said Lindbergh Marzo, Sacred Heart's pastoral council president.

The parish, which is 5.6 km from the eruption, has allowed media and relief workers to use the church's lot and office bathrooms. At one point the parish hall was a temporary crisis information centre. Other parishes have been dropping off donations there as well.

St. Joseph Parish in Hilo filled a 15-person passenger van with food, water, blankets, pillows, clothing, gift cards and other items for Puna evacuees and dropped it off at Sacred Heart. Parishioners also raised a $3,224 cash donation for a local relief fund.

Fr. Paul Li, vicar forane of the diocese's East Hawaii vicariate, said the parishes in the vicariate took up a second collection for volcano aid during Masses on Pentecost Sunday.

Li's parish of St. Theresa in Mountain View, which is about 29 km from Pahoa, and Holy Rosary Mission in Keaau collected $1,164 in their second collection and also delivered blankets, tarps, towels and other items to Sacred Heart for distribution to those displaced residents that need them.

"Some people are grateful for where they are and some people have a lot of anxiety," Marzo said of the people he knows displaced by the volcano activity.

Leilani Estates is a rural subdivision with large lots on a 35-km grid. The smaller nearby Lanipuna Gardens also is affected. 

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