Mayor reflects on destruction of Kapoho

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Lava flows into the ocean after covering Vacationland, Kapoho Bay and most of Kapoho Beach Lots Wednesday.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Lava continues to fountain from fissure No. 8 Wednesday in Leilani Estates.

  • Photos by HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Lava continues to fountain from fissure No. 8 on Wednesday in Leilani Estates.

  • U.S. Geological Survey map

The devastation was swift and nearly absolute.

In the course of three days, hundreds of homes, farms and vacation rentals in Kapoho became buried under a relentless ‘a‘a lava flow that turned lives upside down and erased an entire community from the map, leaving its iconic tide pools and gentle bay to live on in the memories of those who cherished them.


It’s a scene that had played out in Puna before — in Kalapana more than two decades ago and, before that, the village of Kapoho in 1960. But it had been decades since Hawaii Island residents seen Kilauea volcano take so much so quickly.

“Every house was lost (in Vacationland),” Mayor Harry Kim said. “That’s the unimaginable thing. All this happened in three days, from no threat to 100 percent or less. And that’s just mind-boggling.”

By Wednesday evening, nearly all of the estimated 500 residences in Vacationland and Kapoho Beach Lots had been destroyed, easily outpacing destruction from the Pu‘u ‘O‘o/Kupaianaha eruption, which claimed 215 structures from 1983 until its end just more than a month ago.

Only a few homes on the north side of Kapoho Bay remained.

A lava flow that is now 8 miles long continued to flow into the ocean Wednesday after filling in Kapoho Bay. Lava now extends 0.8 miles from the former shoreline.

The official count of homes lost to the current lower East Rift Zone eruption that started May 3 in Leilani Estates remained at 130. That number includes homes lost in Leilani and Lanipuna Gardens but does not include those destroyed in Kapoho.

In terms of total land covered, the 35-year Pu‘u ‘O‘o/Kupaianaha eruption remains on top with 56 square miles; the current eruption has covered 8.6 square miles so far.

Kim, who owned a small house in Vacationland on property his family purchased in 1971, lamented the island’s loss.

Lava destroyed that house, but the mayor, who resides in Hilo, said he will miss the Waiopae tide pools the most. Most of the tide pool area was covered by Wednesday.

“I will miss just sitting there, standing there, just looking at the beauty of that place,” Kim said. “Never in my mind was I looking at the house. Just the ocean, the ponds, the coral, the peace of it, I will miss. I will cherish the memories I have of it and really cherish that I had a lot of years of it.”

He said there were “a lot of tears” at the Pahoa community meeting Tuesday evening.

“It was hard to take, to tell you the truth,” Kim said.

Among the many mourning the loss are Delores Kinsey, who moved to Kapoho Beach Lots in 2009 from Arizona.

She said the destruction was “overwhelming.”

“I think the ocean is why we moved there,” Kinsey said. “The bay was exquisitely beautiful. The people that were attracted to this area were kind of unique, too. They were people who appreciated the nature and the beauty there.”

Kim was Civil Defense chief during past eruptions that inundated Kalapana and the Royal Gardens subdivision and knows well how this loss can impact individuals and communities.

“The great loss of Kalapana was that was the home of Hawaiians for generations,” Kim said. “I’ll never forget the sadness of sitting down with them and being the one to tell them to go.”

After Kapoho was inundated, he said there’s also a “great sense of sadness” and emptiness.

“I really believe that someday we will look back and remember, and we will see a better future,” Kim said. “But right now, it hurts like hell.”


Reporter Stephanie Salmons contributed to this story.

Email Tom Callis at

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