Big Island residents mourn loss of homes — and communities

Thousands of people have evacuated Puna in the last month as their neighborhoods are inundated with volcanic activity. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)
Thousands of people have evacuated Puna in the last month as their neighborhoods are inundated with volcanic activity. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)
Thousands of people have evacuated Puna in the last month as their neighborhoods are inundated with volcanic activity. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)
Thousands of people have evacuated Puna in the last month as their neighborhoods are inundated with volcanic activity. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)
Thousands of people have evacuated Puna in the last month as their neighborhoods are inundated with volcanic activity. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)
Thousands of people have evacuated Puna in the last month as their neighborhoods are inundated with volcanic activity. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - They didn't just lose homes. They lost everything — an entire community — and now they're struggling to figure out what to do next.

The residents of Kapoho, where hundreds of homes were destroyed by a flow of lava at least a half a mile wide, say the scope of the devastation is difficult to come to terms with.

More than 24 hours after lava covered huge swaths of the coastal communities, authorities say they still don't have an official tally of all the homes lost in Vacationland and Kapoho Beach Lots. But they fear the total, once updated, could push up the number of homes lost since eruptions started to at least 500.

Even the homes that are still standing are inaccessible due to lava blocking several major roadways.

"You have to have been there to feel it and have experienced it, to appreciate how great it was and what we've lost as a community," said Steve Neill, a Big Island resident, who lost his Kapoho Beach Lots home to lava.

"My little house is one house and we'll get by with it — but the loss of that community, that place I don't know what ... It was just wonderful beyond words really, and it's all gone. It's like it died and we have a right to mourn it, and we have a right to miss it, but we've got to carry on."

Among those who lost a home in the flow that covered Kapoho: Big Island Mayor Harry Kim.

Kim addressed residents at a meeting Tuesday, asking the community to remain strong during this difficult time.

"In the darkest of times I asked you to stick with us. Together, all of us, as a community," he said. "If we have the will, we will make it better. Hang in people, we'll get it done," Kim said.

Meanwhile, residents and visitors alike are still processing the loss of Kapoho Bay, a popular snorkeling and fishing spot along the Big Island coastline.

On Tuesday, the flow from fissure 8 entered the ocean, covering the bay and extending .7 miles into the sea. The drastic change in Kapoho's landscape has garnered strong responses from community members and visitors alike.

"It's incredibly saddening," said Jason Hills, whose father lives in Kapoho. "Kapoho was one of the last special places along that entire coastline."

"(It) was just a little calm water gem where people could play, swim, hang out in the tide pools," Hills said. "Now it's just a big hunk of lava rock."

Makani Gregg, a Kapoho resident whose home is still standing, says being able to return to her home just to see it — even though she couldn't stay — was incredibly meaningful.

Gregg also said that even though she feels her house will be spared, she finds the pervasive uncertainty incredibly stressful.

"I understand this whole process in the sense that ... it is a Pele cycle and that nothing is in your control, nothing is in your hands and as human beings we are learning how to cope with that and how to adjust to that," Gregg said.

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