From her backyard bench, a spectacular — and devastating — lava show

Debbie Kalaluhi is watching the destruction in Leilani Estates unfold from her backyard. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Debbie Kalaluhi is watching the destruction in Leilani Estates unfold from her backyard. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - A few years ago, Debbie Kalaluhi got a bench for whale watching.

From it, she can see a broad swath of Leilani Estates, ground zero for ongoing eruptions in lower Puna.

And these days, she's not watching whales from her bench. She's watching lava — lava shooting in fountains from fissure no. 17 or creating flows, snaking through properties and headed toward the sea.

She's watching lava creating new earth, "building up and building up and building up till she's solid."

Kalaluhi lives in one of just about 20 homes in Leilani Estates that haven't been abandoned by their tenants, civil defense authorities estimate.

From her bench, tucked in the backyard of her hillside property, she feels safe — outside of the lava's path.

But since the 17th fissure opened Saturday, her life has changed.

It's now ruled by the jarring explosions of lava bursting from the ground, the "sonic booms" of gas explosions, the incessant rattle of magma moving underground and lava moving above.

"It's mind-blowing," she said. "I'm so proud of my view, but the sheer volume, the concussion of the explosions that we feel is just, oh boy, scary."

On Friday, Kalaluhi sat in her backyard as she has much of this week, marveling at the birth of new land.

The show, she said, is awesome — in the purest sense of the word. Worthy of awe.

It is also devastating.

"We will not ever be the same. It's completely different," she said, of her quiet subdivision, home to about 1,700. "Nothing will ever be the same again."

But Kalaluhi also knows that after destruction, there is always re-birth. Re-invention.

"I know that life will come back because it's happened before. She burns," referring to Madame Pele, "and then makes new things come back."

As she speaks, Kalaluhi pauses with each boom and blast, taking it all in, ever so slightly shaking her head in disbelief.

"It's just heartbreaking sometimes, but awesome. She's just awesome."

Kalaluhi added, "You can't put words to it —" And then she stops, quieting again to listen as a deafening crack from fissure no. 17 fills the air. The fissure and its lava roars and rumbles.

After a little while, Kalaluhi breaks her silence. "Oh my goodness," she says.

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