FEMA gets green light: Ige’s request for federal aid approved; Disaster Recovery Center opens today

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Nearby lava activity creates a red glow that blankets downtown Pahoa Wednesday evening, looking southeast on Pahoa Village Road.

President Trump approved on Thursday Gov. David Ige’s request for federal individual assistance programs to aid residents affected by the Kilauea eruption, just one day after the request was made.

The approval of the request allows six federal programs to be deployed on the Big Island to assist citizens in matters of housing, counseling, insurance, legal services and more.


These programs — which include the Individuals and Households Program, Transitional Sheltering Assistance, Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program, Disaster Unemployment Assistance, Disaster Case Management and Disaster Legal Services — will be available to qualified residents at a Disaster Recovery Center set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the Keaau High School gymnasium.

The recovery center, which will be open starting today from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, will feature state, county and federal agencies that will register affected residents and review their cases on an individual basis to determine what assistance they qualify for.

Eligibility for the six programs depends primarily on whether property losses occurred in a presidentially declared disaster area — which all of Hawaii County is — whether the property is the resident’s primary residence, whether the property is habitable, and whether the resident can cover necessary expenses. The Individuals and Households Program, in particular, covers a wide range of services, including financial assistance for home repair or replacement, medical care, funeral services and more.

Bob Fenton, regional administrator for FEMA Region IX, said earlier this week that the maximum FEMA grant payout for individuals is just less than $35,000, although the average payout is about $4,000.

An estimated 455 homes in lower Puna have been destroyed by the eruption since May 3, and about 2,700 people have been displaced.

Meanwhile, the ongoing lava flow is, counter-intuitively, threatening the Big Island’s cinder supply. Sanford’s Service Center, which operates the island’s sole source of black cinder, was forced to indefinitely shut down its cinder harvesting facility, located at an extinct cinder cone just south of Leilani Estates, shortly after the eruption began.

Now, with only a few weeks of black cinder supply remaining, the floral industry that relies on cinder is seeking other sources.

Deborah Ward, spokesperson for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association and the DLNR coordinated with an excavation company to mine the Pu‘unene Cinder Pit in the Mauna Loa Forest Reserve for black cinder.

The cinder pit will be sufficient to accommodate a demand for 100 cubic yards of black cinder per week.

Back in the lower East Rift Zone, the lava flow from fissure 8 remained steady. U.S. Geological Survey research geologist Patricia Nadeau said fountaining from the fissure reached up to 255 feet high Thursday, although the fountains appeared lower because the spatter cone around the fissure has reached up to 160 feet high in some places.

Fissures 16 and 18 also have been “oozing” lava for the past few days, Nadeau said. Lava from those fissures has not spread beyond the existing lava field.

The lower East Rift Zone eruption has been emitting 19,000 tons of sulfur dioxide each day, Nadeau said.

While National Weather Service meteorologist Rob Ballard said the trade winds will resume their usual northeasterly course throughout the end of the week, blowing vog and gas to the southwest, the state Department of Health is soliciting community suggestions on where to set up 10 new air monitoring stations on the Big Island.

The department has five air monitoring stations — which measure the amount of particulates and gases in the air — located in Hilo, Mountain View, Pahala, Ocean View and Kona.

While the Department of Health has identified general areas where additional monitoring is needed, including North and South Kona and South Kohala, Big Island residents are invited to submit their suggestions for the stations’ locations to

Email Michael Brestovansky at


To improve efficiencey and in order to avoid long lines, residents who intend to register for FEMA assistance are asked to follow the schedule below.

Today: Leilani Estates, Lanipuna Gardens, Alaili Road and Old Kalapana Highway;

Saturday: Highway 132, Noni Farms Road, Halekamahina Road, Old Kapoho Road, Puna Kapoho Road, Railroad Avenue and Pohoiki Road;

Sunday: Vacationland, Kapoho, Green Farm Lots and Kapoho Beach Lots;

Monday: Community of Volcano.


Please remember, applicants should have the following information on hand: Social Security number; address of the damaged primary residence; description of the damage; information about insurance coverage; a current contact telephone number; an address where they can receive mail; and bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit of funds.

Disaster assistance for homeowners and renters may include grants to help pay for: temporary housing; essential home repairs; uninsured and underinsured personal property losses; other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance.

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