Modified sheds donated to house evacuees; state gives county $12M for response efforts

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald In a heavy downpour Thursday, Hawaii National Guard workers and volunteers build the first set of temporary housing units that will consist of 20 modules, each 120 square feet. The units were donated by HPM Building Supply and are being built on Pahoa Sacred Heart Church land behind Tin Shack Bakery in Pahoa.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald From left, HI-EMA Administrator Tom Travis, FEMA Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer Willie Nunn and Gov. David Ige stand with Mayor Harry Kim during a media briefing Thursday at Hawaii County Civil Defense.

Temporary housing for those displaced by Kilauea volcano will be built later this week, with eligible evacuees to move in soon.

Brandee Menino, Hope Services CEO, said the first set of temporary housing units will consist of 20 modules 120 square feet in area. Construction on some of the units began Thursday, but most of them will be built by volunteers and Hawaii National Guard workers on Saturday.

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The materials were purchased from HPM Building Supply with funding from the Hawaii Island United Way and a foundation affiliated with Hu Honua Bioenergy’s owners, Menino said.

“The original sketch was just a shed; we made modifications with their design team at HPM,” Menino said, adding that the changes include adjustments for human habitation such as windows.

Although the units will not have electrical or water utilities, a hygiene trailer equipped with three shower units and three bathroom units will arrive Tuesday on the Big Island.

The units will be set up at Pahoa Sacred Heart Church, on land offered by the church to aid evacuees, with five other churches in line to provide similar services. However, Menino said only evacuees ages 60 or older will be able to stay at the Sacred Heart units for the time being.

A time frame for when evacuees will be able to move in is unclear —“We’re using the word ‘soon,’” Menino said.

Other, more permanent housing solutions were discussed by Mayor Harry Kim and Gov. David Ige during a media briefing Thursday afternoon. Kim said he intends to establish a task force composed of county, state and federal agencies to “build a new community” for displaced families, although he admitted that no concrete details about the task force have been determined.

Such a task force likely will not benefit from an agreement signed by Ige and Kim on Thursday that authorized $12 million in state funds to aid in the county’s eruption response efforts. The agreement stipulates that the funds be used for emergency supplies and temporary shelter-related goods and services, but not long-term infrastructure repairs.

Kim said the funding will cover “most” of the county’s response expenses, estimating that the county spent approximately $3 million during the first two weeks following the eruption. After the recent escalation of volcanic activity this week, with lava wiping out all of Vacationland and most of Kapoho Beach Lots, that number likely has increased dramatically.

An estimated 600 homes have been destroyed by lava since the eruption began May 3, Kim said. Approximately 320 homes were destroyed in Kapoho Beach Lots, with 160 others lost in Vacationland and approximately 120 lost in Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens earlier.

“‘Homes’ is just a word though; we’re talking 600 families,” Kim said.

Kim said conversations about whether farms can be relocated are still being discussed, as well as broader questions about whether new housing developments will be permitted in Lava Zones 1 or 2.

“We went through a lot in 1990,” Kim said, alluding to that year’s Kalapana lava flow. “But people still came back.”

People will be able to come back to Leilani Estates, too. Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said the curfew for residents returning to the western half of Leilani Estates has been lifted: “You’ll be able to sleep there,” he said.

Magno said that because the mandatory evacuation for Leilani Estates east of Pomaikai Street clearly delineated the part of the subdivision threatened by the eruption, the part of the subdivision outside the evacuation zone is considered safe. Only confirmed residents of the area will be allowed in, however.

Also safe, for the time being, is Nanawale Estates, which is close to a northward-reaching branch of the fissure 8 lava flow. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokeswoman Janet Babb said that branch of the flow is receiving very little lava and is effectively defunct for the time being. Even if it weren’t, the lines of steepest descent dictate that the flow most likely would avoid Nanawale and sweep through the jungle toward Pakaka Road.

Babb reiterated that the lava can change at any time. A collapse in the lava channel walls or a reactivating fissure can quickly alter the course of a lava flow.

Fissure 8 remains the only active vent and showed few signs of slowing down Thursday as it produced fountains between 190 and 250 feet high, HVO geophysicist Jim Kauahikaua said.

With the northward branch of the lava flow stagnating, most of the fissure 8 flow is entering the ocean at the former Kapoho Bay, having produced a lava shelf approximately a mile long and spreading outward, Kauahikaua said.

At Kilauea summit, Halema‘uma‘u continues to change, with the crater walls slumping inward and the ground subsiding. Kauahikaua said the caldera floor has dropped between 25 and 35 feet.

The summit also regularly explodes, with pressure beneath the blocked volcanic shaft producing sizable explosions like clockwork each day. Kauahikaua said the timing of the explosions is predictable, marked by a steady increase in seismic activity throughout the day, culminating in a large explosion, followed by a drop in seismic activity for the next several hours.

One such explosion, which occurred at approximately 4 p.m. Wednesday, registered on seismometers as a magnitude-5.4 earthquake.

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According to USGS data, that earthquake happened almost exactly 36 hours after a magnitude-5.5 earthquake at the summit the previous day, which in turn occurred approximately 36 hours after still another magnitude-5.5 earthquake Sunday.

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

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