Information from island employers to help determine ways to offset losses from lava

  • U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY photo The south side of the ocean entry was most active Tuesday, with many small streams of lava and corresponding steam plumes spread along a fairly broad section of the southern part of the delta. This image was captured about 6:13 a.m. Tuesday.

  • U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY photo

    Fissure 8 fountains reached heights up to 160 feet overnight Monday. Lava fragments falling from the fountains are building a cinder-and-spatter cone around the vent, with the highest part of the cone (about 125 feet high) on the downwind side. This image was captured about 6:10 a.m. Tuesday.

With scores of businesses around the island impacted by the Kilauea eruption, county, state and federal agencies are investigating ways to help struggling employers and employees alike.

Last week, the Hawaii County Department of Research and Development collected reports from businesses affected by the eruption in any way, from a lack of business or a loss of wares or property. While the data from the reports still need to be analyzed, the effects are wide-ranging.

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Bill Walter, president of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, said some of the most common reports he has heard are from businesses in heavily tourist-reliant areas such as Volcano, which he said have been “tremendously hammered” by a sharp decline in visitors following the monthlong closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Pahoa businesses also have been hit hard, Walter said, with far fewer people visiting the Puna District.

Many farms and agriculture lots have been disrupted or destroyed outright. While Walter said reports that 80 percent of the island’s papaya crop was destroyed are inaccurate, he thinks the number remains between 30 and 40 percent, far from an insignificant amount.

Research and Development Director Diane Ley said preliminary information in the reports, which were returned June 8, indicate wide-ranging and long-lasting effects.

“I would be hesitant to say what the actual number is,” Ley said. “It’s all self-reported. Some people are reporting just the immediate effects. Some people are making long-term projections.”

While the total impact on Big Island businesses is yet to be determined, Ley said the results will help generate a broad picture of which businesses and communities are the most impacted.

“Different people are feeling impacts in different ways all across the island,” Ley said.

Ley said some of the more “hidden” impacts can be found among businesses that were operated out of residences that were evacuated or destroyed, marine-focused jobs that relied on a boat launch in Kapoho, and cleaning services that serviced vacation rentals isolated or inundated by lava.

Ley said the results of Research and Development’s reports will be delivered to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will take the information into consideration when determining whether the state will be eligible to receive federal funds for individual assistance.

In the meantime, the American Job Center of Hawaii will host “Rapid Response” workshops next week for employees or employers to get help with questions about unemployment insurance, SNAP benefits, housing rental assistance, Veterans Affairs and other benefits.

“We’re all going to be in one location,” said Sandra Goodale of the American Job Center of Hawaii. “It’s an opportunity for people to not feel so lost.”

Although programs are available at the county, state and federal levels to help employees and employers reach a more stable position, the uncertainty of the ongoing eruption means many markets might be permanently disrupted.

“Businesses are going to have to do some reinventing now, definitely,” Ley said. “I’m confident it’ll happen, but they’re going to be playing a completely different ballgame.”

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Employees or business owners affected by the eruption can attend two Rapid Response workshops next week — from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. June 19 at Cooper Center in Volcano and June 20 at the Pahoa Community Center.

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