Closure of lava shelters signals a major turning point for Puna

Closure of lava shelters signals a major turning point for Puna

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than four months after the Kilauea eruption started in Leilani Estates, significant changes are now in store for the community.

The Pahoa Emergency Evacuation Shelter, which once housed more than 500 lava evacuees, is scheduled to cease operations at noon Monday.

The shelter will have been open for 138 days, marking the longest running disaster shelter in the state's history.

County officials say while this is a turning point for Puna, they are still working to place 20 individuals into housing.

"We are confident that they have been given every opportunity to work with all these agencies. As far as making everybody whole, we're never going to make everybody whole, but they've come to a point where they've accepted what has happened and they are moving on," said Roxcie Waltjen, Director of Hawaii County's Department of Parks and Recreation.

Hawaii Electric Light says its crews have been working with the county to remove and replace damaged electrical equipment and poles in Leilani Estates.

Waltjen says almost all lava evacuees have somewhere to go once the shelter closes its doors.

"(Evacuees) either bought new property or they've received their money through FEMA and they're investing, or they're moving into other rental houses," Waltjen said.

The head of Hope Services Hawaii says they're working with the remaining families at the shelter on housing options, including temporary micro units.

"The needs are still high. There's families that are still needing to rebuild, that are still searching for places where they can rebuild. And some are just waiting it out. So there's still quite a bit of uncertainty," said Brandee Menino, CEO of Hope Services Hawaii.

Puu Honua O Puna, the community-led supply and information hub for evacuees, is now open just Mondays and Fridays, and organizers say they're servicing up to 40 families.

"We still have a role, so we're taking a look at broadening our mission and being an organization that mobilizes to prepare communities for disaster. Should anything happen, whether it be a hurricane or another lava eruption, we can quickly activate our operation that we started back in May," said hub co-founder Ashley Kierkiewicz.

Parts of Volcanoes National Park will reopen later this week, including the Kilauea Visitor Center, the Kilauea Iki Overlook, and a stretch of the Crater Rim Trail between Volcano House and the Kilauea Military Camp.

Camp Laniakea, a program for children who were living at the shelters, held its last day of camp Saturday.

Kids were being bussed from the shelters to participate in different STEM activities, like astronomy, robotics, and computer science.

"It was nice to see that image of these kids having such a great time, as opposed to them inside the shelter where we originally saw them. Seeing that big difference of getting them out, getting them exploring," said Virginia Aragon-Barnes, Hawaii Community Affairs Manager for Thirty Meter Telescope.

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