As eruptions drag on, evacuees make homes out of tents

As eruptions drag on, evacuees make homes out of tents at Big Island shelters
Fissure no. 8 continues to spew out fountains of lava, creating flows that are emptying into the sea off Kapoho. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)
Fissure no. 8 continues to spew out fountains of lava, creating flows that are emptying into the sea off Kapoho. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - As eruptions in lower Puna continue into a sixth week, parking lots outside several evacuation shelters in Puna are turning into tent cities.

Many of the campers are in search of privacy and want to protect the few belongings they have left.

Outside the Pahoa shelter Thursday, four cars covered in canopies are now home to a family of 15.

"We just got an air mattress that we're putting up now," said Zelda Kanakaole, who evacuated with her family from Kapoho a month ago. "In here, we have two of the kids that sleep inside this car."

Since the eruptions started May 3, at least 600 homes have been destroyed and thousands have been displaced.

On Thursday, the state announced it was sending $12 million to the Big Island to help pay for the mounting costs of responding to the eruptions. Already, the county has shelled out at least $3 million for disaster response, officials said.

At the same time, state and county authorities pledged to start delivering short- and long-term solutions to a growing housing crisis.

"The past few days have got to be one of the saddest in my long life that I've experienced," said Big Island Mayor Harry Kim.

"But we're going to do this. We will work as a team at the federal, state, our governor, so we eliminate all the bureaucracy delays that are natural, so we can get it done as soon as possible."

Kanakaole, who is camping out with her family, said she thought she found a rental unit. But she says the home initially advertised for $1,100 a month was suddenly relisted for close to $2,000.

"Right now, it's so hard because there's limited houses in the area," said Kanakaole. "We need more help. At least do a rent control thing here."

The parking lots outside the shelter are lined with of rows of evacuees. Officials counted nearly 250 campers — after many had already gone to work — in addition to those staying inside the shelters.

"The most important thing for these people who are displaced is housing," said Roann Okamura, of the Big Island Department of Parks and Recreation.

Okamura says the county is doing the best it can with the resources available. But she says for people to really start getting their lives in order they need a roof over their head.

"Eventually people are going to need their own private space. It's good to go camping but over a month is a little too long," said Okamura.

In the meantime, Kanakaole is doing everything she can to keep her family together and somewhat comfortable.

"It's going to be a long haul," said Kanakaole.

She knows this is a problem that won't be solved overnight.

The Salvation Army distribution center on the grounds of the Pahoa shelter is accepting donations for camping gear.

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