Homes spared by lava are being hit by looters, evacuees say

Police respond to claims of heavy looting of homes within evacuation zone

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - On the Big Island, homes spared by lava are now being hit by looters.

Nat Tomaselli knows that all too well.

He's lived in Noni Farms for 28 years, and Hawaii News Now was with him recently as he returned to his home after weeks away.

When he opened his door, he found his home had had been ransacked. Thieves stole furniture, the fridge, and bedroom sets.

And that wasn't all.

They also stole his solar panels with the storage battery, and his catchment cover and pump. That means he doesn't have power or water.

"I can't believe they did this," Tomaselli said, through tears. "They tore my place apart. I'm missing all my beds."

Tomaselli owns Nat's Towing company.

When the first fissures opened in Leilani Estates, he used his tow trucks to help residents evacuate their vehicles, often stuffed with possessions.

Then, when Fissure no 17 started closer to his property, he too had to quickly evacuate.

Lava took one of his tow trucks and 34 vehicles in his yard, which is near the Puna Geothermal Venture plant.

Tomaselli may never be able to return to his home — the road to the property is now a lava field. But he was trying to salvage some of his things.

Tomaselli isn't alone. Many evacuees have returned to find thieves have hit their homes.

At the July 3 community meeting in Pahoa, residents asked about safety and looters. But the only answer they got from Hawaii County Civil Defense was that police were aware of the crimes and working on it.

Residents want to know how the thieves are easily getting in and out of the area with large items and furniture.

As for Tomaselli, he recently found a place to rent in Pahoa.

It's been tough. His tow company is still operating even if business has slowed about 40 percent. He's also had to postpone opening his Little Caesars Pizza place in Hilo.

But he is keeping a positive attitude about the difficulties.

"I needed a new bed anyway," he said, with an emotional laugh. "I'll take my lumps."

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