Watch and wait: Some may be allowed to return to homes briefly

  • DEMIAN BARRIOS/Special to the Tribune-Herald Smoke rises as lava crosses Leilani Avenue Saturday in Leilani Estates.
  • DEMIAN BARRIOS/Special to the Tribune-Herald Lava fountains out of a fissure Saturday morning in Leilani Estates.
  • DEMIAN BARRIOS/Special to the Tribune-Herald Smoke rises as lava crosses Leilani Avenue Saturday in Leilani Estates.

After two days of disruptive and destructive volcanic activity in lower Puna, residents received some relief late Saturday when the eight vents that had been emitting lava earlier in the day went quiet.

Five homes were confirmed destroyed in the Leilani Estates subdivision as a result of lava oozing from the fissures, but by Saturday afternoon all of the vents had stopped expelling lava, and the earthquakes that had rocked the region a day earlier had subsided.

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However, officials cautioned volcanic activity from Kilauea volcano likely will ramp up again.

“This is what we’re seeing, is (the vents) open up for awhile, and they kind of play out,” said Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokeswoman Janet Babb. “So that should not be interpreted as the eruption being over. All indications show this intrusion remains active, and the possibility of an eruption is still there. Based on what we’ve been seeing, these fissures are opening sort of back and forth.”

Officials said the vents also appear to be “connected” by the lava that flowed from them.

Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said the county hopes to allow some evacuees to briefly return to their homes as soon as today to retrieve valuables and documents. He said it would be “maybe about half” of evacuees in areas with low levels of sulfur dioxide and it would be just to “get their animals and get their precious documents but we want them to come back out.”

Seismic activity also decreased Saturday, though small quakes still continued throughout the day.

“Things got pretty active (Saturday). The eight different vents were active to the point where lava was spewing, and the flow started spreading, so we had additional damage out there,” Magno said Saturday. “We thought it was just going to continue to go. But, fortunately, seismicity has kind of laid down, and the vents have gone quiet for now. But we’re pretty certain we’re not done yet. … This is by no means over.”

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which closed Friday, said it might partially reopen this afternoon if volcanic and seismic activity remains quiet.

Water restrictions remained in place Saturday for Leilani Estates, Kapoho Beach Lots, Lanipuna Gardens, Pohoiki Bay Estates, Green Lake Farm Lots, Vacationland and all customers on Pohoiki and Kalapana Kapoho Beach roads.

Highway 130 between the Pahoa intersection and Kamaili Road was closed Saturday and Highway 132 was passable as allowed on risk. Pohoiki Road remained closed.

The county also was working Saturday to assess structural damage from Friday’s magnitude-6.9 earthquake.

County Managing Director Wil Okabe said the Hilo Armory sustained some structural damage, along with the downtown Hilo post office, which closed Saturday as a precaution. He said county officials plan to have a better sense of overall damage in the coming days.

“We haven’t really gone out. It just happened (Friday), so we still have to see,” Okabe said.

On Saturday, between 200 and 250 people were registered at the shelter in Pahoa Community Center, and about 28 at the shelter in Keaau.

The county said both shelters had been inundated with donations and are asking community members to refrain from dropping items off at the shelters. Officials plan instead to set up a donation distribution center in Puna.

Not everyone has left the evacuation area. Demian Barrios and Ikaika Marzo are among a handful of residents who are choosing to stick around Leilani Estates to document volcanic activity via social media.

Marzo, who is posting videos of the eruptions to Facebook, said air quality is “pretty bad at times,” but feels “it’s important people know what’s going on and stay informed.”

“If they’re not informed with the correct information, they start to panic,” Marzo said. “That’s my thing — people need to know what’s going on in their community.”

Barios, who has been photographing lava erupting from the vents, said he “feels obligated to be there and share it.”

“With the second eruption (Saturday), there was not even helicopters in the air,” Barios said. “And here’s this amazing, life-changing event that’s happening here on the island, and there’s nobody there.

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“To know that something you consider solid ground can just be shaken beneath you and taken away from you is truly a moment where you realize this life and everything we share together is so precious.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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