Mandatory evacuation pau: Leilani Estates residents being allowed to return starting today

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno answers questions Friday during a press conference outside of the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency office in Hilo.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Fissure 8 continues to feed a river of lava on July 19 in Leilani Estates.

After more than three months of closure, the mandatory evacuation zone covering much of Leilani Estates has been lifted for residents.

Following a statement by Mayor Harry Kim Friday afternoon, the mandatory evacuation order prohibiting access to parts of Leilani Estates east of Alapai Street will be lifted at 9 a.m. this morning.

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The exclusion zone was established May 31 due to lava flows and toxic volcanic gas from Kilauea volcano.

“Are we excited about it? Yes,” said Jay Turkovsky, Leilani Estates Community Association president.

Turkovsky, who owns a residence within the evacuation zone, had said previously that the restricted area only served to inconvenience residents after volcanic activity quieted in August.

Although Turkovsky was able to regularly access his Leilani residence, he was eventually forced to find a second home elsewhere, which he successfully did four days before Kim’s announcement.

“I guess all it took to close the evacuation zone was me spending a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Turkovsky joked.

While residents will be able to access the previously inaccessible areas of the subdivision, Hawaii Police Department Capt. Kenneth Quiocho said police will still maintain checkpoints at the entrance to the subdivision, restricting access to residents and authorized personnel only.

The Leilani community association ultimately hopes to file a memorandum of understanding with the county to obtain control over Leilani Avenue, allowing the neighborhood to set up a gate at the road’s entrance and obviating the need for police checkpoints, Turkovsky said.

Until then, Turkovsky said he is happy to get back to his home “to defend it from the wild pigs that have just been tearing it up lately,” but added that a lot of work is still required to make some roads passable. Some segments of road will need to be replaced with gravel for the time being, Turkovsky said.

Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said there are approximately 250 residences still within the evacuation zone, although he could not confirm the number of surviving homes isolated by lava.

In addition, Magno said residents with property within a 50-yard perimeter of the lava flow field must notify Civil Defense to receive a waiver. Otherwise, any approach within 50 yards of any part of the flow field is prohibited.

Civil Defense advises that returning residents should take precautions when moving back into their homes and keep a rapid evacuation plan in mind. Residents also are advised to be aware of ground cracks, volcanic gases, wind-borne volcanic particulates and fallen vegetation.

Meanwhile, a statement by Hawaii Electric Light Co. announced the company’s intention to quickly restore power to some homes within the evacuation zone. According to the statement, HELCO has been conducting assessments and repairs in the area for the last week and will work in phases to restore power as soon as possible, with some homes possibly regaining power within days.

Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara said representatives of several county agencies and the Leilani community association will be stationed at the Leilani Community Center throughout the next several days to provide assistance to returning residence. O’Hara also confirmed that the U.S. Postal Service will resume mail deliveries in the affected area.

In addition, any returning residents requiring a placard to enter the subdivision can obtain one by visiting O’Hara’s office in Pahoa, O’Hara said.

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“It’s a long, long road to recovery,” O’Hara said. “But it’s a good first step.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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