Pahoa Lava Flow Series

Feb 12, 2015

Pāhoa: A Town with a Rich Past and an Uncertain Future

September 24, 2014

Janet Ikeda owns Jan's Barber and Beauty Shop, the oldest business in Pāhoa.
Credit Molly Solomon
Janet Ikeda speaks with Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi before a community meeting on the lava flow in Pāhoa.
Credit Molly Solomon

Officials are saying lava heading towards Pāhoa on Hawaii's Big Island has slowed for now. But that isn't putting anyone at ease. Over the next few days, we’ll hear stories of how people are dealing with this uncertainty. HPR’s Molly Solomon spent some time in Pāhoa, and found a town with a colorful past and an uncertain future.

Janet Ikeda has a complicated relationship with the Kīlauea volcano. If it weren’t for the eruption in Kapoho, she never would have met her husband. He lived in the next town over but moved to Pāhoa after the lava took his family’s home. "My husband's house was the first house to be covered by lava," says Ikeda. That was 60 years ago.

Ikeda, now 79, has lived in the sleepy town of Pāhoa her whole life. Her barber shop is at the far end of the main road in town. She says she remembers helping out as a young girl. Back then, it was owned by her grandfather Riichi Sakoda, who emigrated from Hiroshima in the late 1890s. "When I was around 14, I used to come down and sweep the shop for him," Ikeda recalls. "And I thought, what the heck. Might as well learn how to cut hair."

Credit Molly Solomon

And that’s exactly what Ikeda did. She’s now been cutting hair here for 65 years. And the store, Jan’s Barber and Beauty Shop, is the oldest business in Pāhoa. Stepping in is like walking into a time capsule. Old fashioned barber stools line the side and the back wall is chock full of memories. Framed photos of her grandchildren.  A collection of Japanese lucky cats waving back at customers. There’s even a photograph from a couple years ago, when the town chose her as the Grand Marshall for the Christmas Parade. Ikeda points to the wall behind her and smiles. "This is my life."

But all of this could be gone in a couple weeks, if the lava continues on its path towards the town. Ikeda says the mood in Puna has grown tense as the lava edges closer, and for many turning to prayer is all they have left. "Everybody's getting nervous," says Ikeda. "It's sad to think about it. All my life I've been here. Never had anything like this. But I'll say my prayers and hopefully Madam Pele will spare us."

Shawn Heard spent the weekend packing up her shop, Puna Style, in anticipation of the lava flow.
Credit Molly Solomon

Other local businesses have already started closing up shop. On the other side of town, Shawn Heard stands outside her store, Puna Style. The bright purple and pink building she’s worked in for the past 25 years is now half empty. Friends and customers in town, stop by to wish her well. Heard spent the past weekend filling boxes with friends and moving them into a container. That’s where they’ll stay for now, until she figures out what to do next. "Right now I feel way better than I did. If you had asked me last Friday, I probably would have been in tears," says Heard. "This is my livelihood."

Madame Pele event spotted on the community board outside Island Naturals Market.
Credit Molly Solomon

Heard says this isn’t the first time she’s had to move from a lava flow. Three decades ago, she left her home in Kalapana. "I lived in Royal Gardens in 1983 when she went off. So I've been through this before." Even so, Heard seems to accept the thought that she might have to move once again. "You do what you've got to do, you go on. If living here has taught me nothing else, it's literally an island of change," says Heard. "It's a new chapter opening up."

Pahoa Residents Prepare as Lava Edges Closer

October 29, 2014

Many residents were busy packing up their belongings and making preparations to evacuate.
Credit Molly Solomon
A family watches the smoke from the advancing lava flow from the corner of Pahoa Village Road and Post Office Road.
Credit Molly Solomon

Lava flowing from Kilauea Volcano towards the town of Pāhoa has finally arrived, crossing residential property lines early Tuesday morning. Residents have had weeks to prepare for this slow-moving disaster and are now faced with the reality that their homes and businesses could be in danger. HPR’s Molly Solomon is in Pāhoa and has this report.

Family History Survives Lava in Pāhoa Cemetery

November 6, 2014

Aiko Sato and her aunt Eiko Kajiyama's family grave is still visible after the lava flow covered the Pāhoa Japanese Cemetery.
Credit Molly Solomon

Of the many stories of loss and change that surround the lava flow moving to isolate parts of Pāhoa, few rival the story of the Buddhist cemetery just outside town The century-old graveyard is home to primarily Japanese immigrants, many of whom worked in the sugar cane fields that once bordered the town. HPR’s Molly Solomon visited Pāhoa last week and has this story of one family’s history, forever changed by the lava.

Aiko Sato and Eiko Kajiyama take a moment to reflect as movers carry furniture out of the house.
Credit Molly Solomon

Last month, Aiko Sato carried a bucket of red ginger to her car. She was heading out to the Pāhoa Japanese Cemetery to pay respect to the graves of her ancestors…part of her weekly ritual…but this time was different. The slow-moving lava heading towards town now had the cemetery in its path. “Something told me, I had to go,” says Aiko.

Hawai‘i County Civil Defense had already blocked the main road. But after hearing Aiko’s story, a state official agreed to drive her out to see the graves. “And he let me take my time,” recalls Aiko. “I was able to place flowers at the family grave. And I felt relief, because I knew that would probably be the final time. And I guess it was.”

The next day, Aiko woke up to find the cemetery has been overrun, taken by lava overnight. “They had national news about the lava going over the cemetery,” she said. “I cried, because I figured probably the Sato grave went.”

“I always thought the cemetery would not be covered by the lava,” says Aiko’s aunt, Eiko Kujiyama, who lives down the street with her son. She remembers the phone call from Aiko that morning, telling her the cemetery was gone. “When she called me, I was shocked to hear it was covered - so sad! Every time I prayed, don’t take the cemetery and please spare Pāhoa."

Credit USGS

The loss means something extra to the Sato family. Aiko’s father, Hiroo Sato, spent most of his life caring for the graves of Japanese immigrants buried at the Pāhoa Japanese Cemetery, filled with people who built the town including his parents and two siblings. He’s also known for writing the book, Pāhoa Yesterday, a historical account of the town’s early years. Evidence of his extensive research on the former sugar cane town, are scribbled on pieces of paper Aiko is carefully packing away. “These are all of his things,” she says. “The last of his manuscripts I sent out. All of his other tidbits of information, that went earlier”

Aiko clears a pile of papers from the dining room table as movers carry a set of chairs down to the carport. She’s evacuating the family home in case the lava takes a turn. Her once crowded living room is now empty, except for an ottoman and the TV.

At a community meeting last week, a scientist with the USGS approached Aiko and her aunt with news about the family grave.

“Everything was up in the air as to whether the grave was still standing,” she said. “But at the lava update meeting we found out the grave had survived.” Aiko pulls out the photo clearly showing the family tombstone surrounded by black lava. “Sato, the family name, is still distinct. To see the lava completely around the gravestone -- it’s like a miracle.”

I ask Aiko what her father would say, knowing the grave he so diligently cared for had survived. “It would bring him a lot of joy and happiness, knowing that it’s still there.”

And at this point, so is Aiko. With the family grave secure, she hopes to stay in the home her family has lived in for generations.

Pahoa Residents Pack Meeting on Lava Update

October 31, 2014

Hundreds of residents packed the Pahoa High School cafeteria Thursday night for a community meeting on the June 27th Lava Flow.
Credit Molly Solomon
Minor breakouts of lava ooze from the margin of the June 27th lava flow Thursday afternoon. These breakouts are located about 100 meters (110 yards) behind the leading edge of the flow.
Credit USGS

The leading edge of the lava slowed to a stall Thursday. The lava, which has not advanced in the past 24 hours, is still 480 feet from Pahoa Village Road. Hundreds of residents attended a community meeting last night seeking answers and information on the lava front. HPR’s Molly Solomon was in Pahoa and has this report.

Lava Fears Prompt Some Businesses to Close Up Shop

November 3, 2014

The Locavore Store closed its doors in Pahoa last week. They're currently looking for a new location in Hilo or Keaau.
Credit Molly Solomon
Hawaii County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) going door-to-door in Pahoa, alerting business owners and residents of possible evacuations.
Credit Molly Solomon

While the lava continued to stall over the weekend, USGS geologists stressed the flow is far from over, leaving residents and business owners in Pāhoa preparing for the possibility they may be cut off. As HPR’s Molly Solomon reports, local shops and restaurants are grappling with the decision of whether or not to stay.