Some residents of areas untouched by lava remain despite call to evacuate

  • A view of fissure 5 is visible Tuesday from Kahukai Street in Leilani Estates.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Residents and media take pictures of an active fissure 5 on Tuesday on Kahukai Street in Leilani Estates.

  • Photos by HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Jay Turkovsky, president of the Leilani Community Association, stands in front of an active fissure 5 on Tuesday on Kahukai Street in Leilani Estates.

While fissures in Leilani Estates spew molten lava dozens of feet in the air and sulfur dioxide bleaches color from surrounding vegetation, some parts of the subdivision remain largely unaffected according to residents who continue to live there.

Jay Turkovsky, president of the Leilani Community Association, lives in one of those parts, on a stretch of Moku Street north of Leilani Avenue, a little more than a mile from where the fifth and sixth fissures in the subdivision fountained lava Tuesday afternoon.

ADVERTISING


Turkovsky is one of about 40 people who remain in the subdivision despite instructions from Hawaii County Civil Defense to evacuate the area.

Each day, Turkovsky patrols the subdivision, monitoring the state of the crumbling roads, the advance of the lava and reports of potential looters.

Of the latter, Turkovsky said, he has heard of few and seen fewer. The police have reported a mere handful of looters, while nobody has definitively reported anything stolen, he said. While Turkovsky has heard rumors that some Leilani residents could have aided looters, he has no substantial information to corroborate them.

Lava, however, was in abundance. Fissures five and six reawakened with a fury Monday, flooding the intersection of Kahukai Street and Leilani Avenue with flowing lava, which was propelled dozens of feet into the air from six angry, glowing fountains.

Kris Burmeister, whose house was still standing on south Hookupu Street as of Tuesday, said he was amazed by how quickly the landscape has changed. One property that was still intact at the Kahukai-Leilani intersection Monday afternoon was unrecognizable 24 hours later — where once stood a house and several vehicles, only one corner of a steel container was visible Tuesday, the last indication of human influence amid the simmering lava.

“I just had to buy in Lava Zone 1,” said fellow resident Stacy Welch, who added that she slept in her home for the first time since the eruption Monday night, only for the renewed flow to force her to leave again.

“It’s amazing,” said Shawn Ronan, who lives on Pomakai Street. “I mean, it’s terrible. If it wasn’t hurting anyone or their homes, it would be amazing.”

“I always say, there’s no safe place anywhere,” Turkovsky said.

However, compared with the hellish conditions elsewhere in the subdivision, Turkovsky’s home appears safe, indeed. Because of this, though, Turkovsky said Civil Defense has handled the situation poorly.

Turkovsky explained that significant parts of Leilani Estates are relatively free from danger — he had to leave his home only once, on May 5, because of southerly winds carrying toxic gases — but are being treated as though they are as at-risk as the worst-affected places.

“The lava is no more likely to reach my home than it is to reach Pahoa,” Turkovsky said.

However, the restricted access to the subdivision — enforced by Hawaii County police and the National Guard — makes living in the comparatively safe areas of Leilani Estates a challenge.

Verified residents are permitted to enter the subdivision between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day, Turkovsky said. And although entering and exiting the subdivision is easy for Turkovsky within those hours, the curfew requires those who remain to stay in the subdivision for 13 hours each night.

This is a particular problem on days such as Tuesday, when community meetings about the eruption are hosted in Pahoa. Because these meetings typically begin at 5:30 p.m. Turkovsky and other Leilani holdouts cannot attend without being outside the subdivision after curfew.

“We should be able to go to those,” Turkovsky said. “That’s something we should know about.”

Turkovsky explained that although his house remains connected to power, he does not have cable and therefore cannot watch the meetings on television.

Other homes, however, are not connected to power, which Turkovsky said is likely preventing more residents from returning on a more permanent basis.

Hawaii Electric Light Co. employees are not permitted into the subdivision, Turkovsky said, adding that he thinks HELCO could likely restore power to large swaths of Leilani Estates — thus enticing residents to return — with minimal effort.

Rhea Lee-Moku, HELCO spokeswoman, said the utility is not restoring power in Leilani because it has become too dangerous.

ADVERTISING


“We had a couple near misses,” she said. “Safety has always been our priority.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.