Amber Makuakane: 'I needed to be strong for them'

Amber Makuakane, on bouncing back from the destruction of her home
Amber Makuakane cooks with her children, who she says have resettled into a new home in Hilo. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Amber Makuakane cooks with her children, who she says have resettled into a new home in Hilo. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was just another afternoon for Pahoa Elementary School teacher Amber Makuakane, who was coming home from a long day of work.

Moments later, she got a phone call from a friend saying a fissure from the Kilauea volcano opened on Mohala Street, just two streets away from her home.

The mother of two called her parents, who live nearby, and immediately started throwing clothes and as many household items she could into garbage bags. She and her family had just minutes to evacuate after a police officer knocked on her door, telling her she needed to leave right now.

That's when they headed to a friend's house.

"I remember grabbing just a few items I knew I couldn't live without," Makuakane said. "But it was definitely a chaotic experience in that moment."

It was that moment when her life would change forever.

Makuakane's home was among the first to be destroyed by lava from eruptions in Kilauea's east rift zone, which began on May 3. Since the eruptions started, hundreds of homes in lower Puna have been destroyed or damaged by lava.

"I remember being on social media, on Facebook, trying to watch every video, read every news update that I could," Makuakane said, explaining that she couldn't sleep that night.

The following day, she got a call from her alarm company that the alarms at the house had gone off. Either the lava had destroyed her home, she thought, or someone went in to look for food or shelter. She hoped for the latter.

But it was a simple video that confirmed her worst nightmare.

"I got a video from a friend and it was an aerial shot, and it had shown that the property was completely covered by lava, and that was my final confirmation," Makuakane said.

It was heartbreaking for Makuakane, who spent practically her entire life in Leilani Estates, but she knew it was in her family's best interest to be strong, pick up the pieces and continue to look toward the future.

"In order for me to care for them in all the ways they need, I needed to be strong for them, and that's why I was able to accept it, and I know that this is just the beginning of the next chapter in our lives," Makuakane said.

It's been over a month, and now, Makuakane and her two children, ages 7 and 4, have found a new life in Hilo. And she says the outpouring of support and aloha – with people reaching out to her from as far away as Germany – have helped her push through the turmoil.

"The transition period was full of ups and downs, trying to find a new house for my kids and I," she said. "There were some good days and some bad days, but we're grateful that we finally found a place and we're starting to settle in."

Makuakane says what she once knew as the thriving, close-knit community of Leilani Estates is now a "different planet" — completely inundated in lava. Yet, it is still the community she has always known and it will always have a special place in her heart.

"Right now, it's just thinking about what's going to happen next and just being hopeful that the outcomes will be positive."

This profile is part of our digital series, "Pele's Path: People of Puna." 

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