How And Where Should We Rebuild After Kilauea Eruption?

Jun 18, 2018

Homes in Leilani Estates overrun by lava flowing from a fissure system on the Big Island.
Credit U.S. Geological Survey

Relocation has begun for some Puna residents forced from their homes by the Kilauea Eruption. Lava has been flowing on the Big Island for more than six weeks now, covering nearly 6,000 acres and destroying more than 500 homes. HPR Reporter Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

There’s no going back for an estimated 2,700 evacuees who have lost access to their homes since the eruption began in early May.

Lava flows into Kapoho Bay, destroying more than 300 homes overnight.
Credit U.S. Geological Survey

“Most recovery plans are based on the assumption that there is a rebuilding. You know, like if there’s a hurricane, you go in, you rebuild. You restore infrastructure, you rebuild damaged buildings,” says Kimo Alameda, “But in this case thereʻs nothing much to rebuild.”

Alameda works for the Hawaiʻi County Office of Aging. He helps lead a coalition of service providers both public and private sector in the disaster recovery effort.

“So weʻre really looking at relocating,” says Alameda, “So the notion of relocation is something that...something that we kind of gotta create.” 

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

And every idea is on the table. A hand-written flyer posted at the Pahoa Shelter reads “Free transportation to mainland available for you if you want to connect with family there. Contact Child and Familiy Services.”

“My name is Karen Tan, and Iʻm the President and CEO of Child and Family Service.”

Evacuees pitch a tent near the Pahoa Community Center.

The organization is offering evacuees free, one-way tickets to the neighbor islands and beyond.

“We try to you know identify those families that have the greatest need to relocate,” says Tan, “Perhaps they donʻt have any connections on the Big Island or maybe no other family they can live with. Maybe no other options.”

Evacuees set-up makeshift tent community near the Pahoa Community Center.

The relocation opportunity is available to Hawaiʻi residents who have lost their homes or access to their homes and have someone at the final destination who will vouch for them.

“So we have had five families that we have actually helped to relocate to the mainland, and then we have six more that we’re in the process of helping,” says Tan, “So not a lot because not a lot of families want to leave completely from the state.”

One of two land parcels state Senator Russell Ruderman proposes the state offer to evacuees as a potential site for relocation.
Credit Senator Russell Ruderman

For those who do want to stay, State Senator Russell Ruderman has a proposal. The Puna legislator is eyeing a 5,000-acre parcel of state land near Pahoa for a potential land swap.

“How it would work is we would take advantage of an existing state law that allows the state to provide land to people who have lost their land in a disaster,” says Sen. Ruderman.

Ruderman, who represents the Puna district and parts of Kaʻū, says this relocation mechanism is nothing new. It was implemented after the 1960 tsunami in Hilo and a couple of times since on Oʻahu.

Destruction was so widespread in Hilo following the 1960 tsunami that displaced residents were relocated, and the state took ownership of the tsunami-ravaged land.
Credit U.S. Geological Survey

“The idea would be give up either your lot in the lava inundation area or the development rights to it for this newly developed plot,” says Sen. Ruderman.

The proposed land includes access to water and electricity and is otuside of Lava Zones 1 and 2.

“And my thought is if we can relocate people like this, we can keep people together as a community in a way that would be an example to the world of this is what you do in the face of a disaster,” says Sen. Ruderman, “You take care of people with compassion.”