Evacuees trying to stay positive amid disaster

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Leilani Estates resident April Buxton, who evacuated her home a few days ago, grabs toys that she bought to give to evacuee children who are staying in the shelter Thursday at Pahoa District Park.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Evacuees, from left, Doug Nagy, a Pohoiki Road resident, and Leilani Estates residents April Buxton, Spencer Massengale and Chris Marolli try to stay dry in their tent shelter Thursday in the parking lot of the gym at Pahoa District Park.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Evacuees Doug Nagy, left, a Pohoiki Road resident, and Leilani Estates resident Spencer Massengale secure their tent shelter with a piece of lumber Thursday in the parking lot of the gym at Pahoa District Park.

PAHOA — As heavy rain dumped over their canopy tent Thursday, Doug Nagy and friends were getting ready for a community grill and movie night.

The plan was to stream Netflix using a television hooked up to their truck battery. Their grills would be fired up and other Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens residents staying at the Pahoa District Park evacuation center were invited to join and bring their thawed freezer meat before it went bad.

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Condiments and food items lined a table inside their tent and a banner that said “Namaste” hung on the outside to let others know they were welcome.

“We have to have camaraderie,” said Nagy, who evacuated his home near Leilani on May 3 after multiple visits from police urging him to leave. “We have to keep it cool. Last night we (also watched a movie) and we watched ‘Tropic Thunder.’ We laughed our asses off — we laughed for the first time in a week. You got to kind of stay cool. I’ve seen some people snap in the last week, really tripping … We’ve got to make it through this somehow.”

On Thursday, one week after lava from Kilauea volcano began entering Leilani Estates, 217 people were checked in at the Pahoa evacuation shelter and 24 were registered at the shelter in Keaau.

The eruption had destroyed more than two dozen homes as of Thursday and showed no sign of letting up. Officials think magma continues to move farther down the volcano’s East Rift Zone.

Many people at the shelter said the air quality also has seemed to have gotten worse. The smell of sulfur dioxide was apparent throughout Pahoa. Some people covered their faces with their sleeves or wore face masks.

“I’ve seen a surge in bronchitis and reactive airway disease,” said state Sen. Josh Green on Thursday.

Green, a physician, was volunteering at the shelter providing medical services.

“The people who have underlying asthma are taking that next step up to having congestion and the people who start with congestion … are taking the next step up to more serious illness,” Green said. “And the people who are totally healthy, are just feeling the basic symptoms of burning in our eyes and throat. So everyone is cranking it up a notch.”

Green said local hospitals haven’t seen a significant spike in patients yet, though he is increasingly concerned about people suffering from mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and extreme stress.

“As time goes by and people are away from their homes and away from their medicines and away from their regular patterns of life, that’s when the stress rises and we’ll see mental health questions,” Green said.

“It’s easy to treat lung disease, just give me the right meds and I’ll take care of it. It’s really difficult to deal with someone if they go into deep crisis, depression or PTSD,” he said.

April Buxton, who lives in upper Leilani, said she has been monitoring her house via a camera system hooked up to her smartphone. She said coverage has been spotty — power at her home has been flickering on and off — but she’s also received updates from neighbors who chose to stay behind.

Buxton said she’s been watching a crack that appeared in her driveway Wednesday.

“My house is kind of down in a gully. If it opens up it’ll go down and take out my house,” Buxton said of the crack.

“It’ll just flow with the way the landscape is.”

“This is our reality for now, but we’re doing better than a lot of other people,” Buxton continued. “A lot of people have lost their houses.”

Thursday night, the group said they planned to simply kick back and relax with anyone else at the shelter interested — to “make the best of a bad situation.”

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“It’s spreading the aloha,” evacuee Spencer Massengale said Thursday as he helped secure the group’s tent for the movie night. “That’s what people need right now. To just come together and laugh and eat. What’s happening (with the eruption) is already happening. So it’s about picking ourselves back up. We all have to.”

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

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