HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Andy Andrews likes to say his “good” these days is a “new good.”
It’s a post-eruption good. A lava-leveled-my-neighbors’-homes good. A looters-are-an-issue-now good. A gawking-tourists-are-driving-me-crazy good.
“What we all know is that our new good is not the same as our old good,” said the longtime resident of Leilani Estates, ground zero for the 2018 Kilauea eruption that destroyed more than 700 homes and changed the landscape of lower Puna forever.
“We’re talking about a new life that’s been changed to something not what we wanted ― and not what we wished upon each other.”
Andrews and his wife, Pam, are considered among the lucky ones in Leilani Estates, a sprawling rural subdivision once considered a jewel in Puna.
About 200 homes there were burned or covered by lava (or both) in the eruption. The Andrews home was spared, save a little damage.
In fact, it looks almost eerily untouched — a home so very normal and commonplace nestled in a new and alien landscape.
The couple lives on Kahukai Street and on May 3 — just hours before lava started shooting from the ground — Andy Andrews joined a few other neighbors to inspect cracks that were forming in the road.
The ground, he recalls, was “wiggling.” That, someone told him, was magma roaring through tubes underground. Right underneath their feet.
The first fissure opened up not too much later, and police and Civil Defense employees drove through Leilani Estates — sirens blaring — urging residents to leave.
Andrews and his wife spent the night in their home and left the following day.
The next few months were a whirlwind. It was the sulfur dioxide fumes — and not the threat of lava — that kept them from returning to their home for weeks.
And even when they were allowed to go back, they were terrified about getting overcome by noxious gases. They slept with gas masks by their bed.
“It was tough to go to sleep at night,” Andrews assures.
And then came the tephra — rocks that rained down on the community as lava fountains shot into the air — and the Pele’s hair, wisps of volcanic glass that catch on the wind and cover the ground and flora.
The two contaminated the Andrews’ water catchment system, which meant they had to start carrying water in. It was a blow — one among many.
There was the foliage: So much of it dead.
And the loss of a community: So many neighbors packed up and gone for good.
And the looters.
“In some cases, even windows were stolen from homes, not just the contents,” said Andrews, sitting at a neighbor’s home on a recent day.
“A lot of people just left out of fright. They couldn’t be comfortable living there. They walked away from their homes. And a very small group of people — squatters — moved in. It really shows how a tiny group of terrible people can have an impact on a large group of wonderful people.”
Andrews tackled the problem with squatters like he tackles most problems in his community. He rounded up some neighbors and took a stand.
The neighborhood watch in Leilani Estates didn’t want for volunteers.
But some problems aren’t so easy, relatively speaking. Rebuilding Leilani Estates, rebuilding the community — that’s going to take time, the 70-year-old acknowledges.
“The biggest need for the neighborhood is to return to a sense of normalcy,” he said.
And achieving normal in a place of so much destruction — of so much heartache — doesn’t happen overnight. “It’s hard for people who weren’t here or don’t live here to understand the depth of emotion that people still feel,” he said.
Andrews feels that sense of loss everywhere.
He misses the way things used to be. He misses the friends he made over so many years — the people who used to fill the ukulele class he taught at the community center.
“A lot of those people’s lives are completely upended,” he said.
That’s why when Andrews looks out over his lanai, he doesn’t see the blackened earth or the new geographical feature that is fissure no. 8′s 180-foot volcanic cone.
“I see the homes of the people I really care about — covered,” he said. “You’re not looking at lava. You’re looking at lives shattered.”
And when you ask Andrews how he’s doing, he’ll probably say “good.”
But he’ll mean so much more.
“Nobody else should be looking to find the good. We’ll do that for our own,” he said. “We’ll find the good that’s gonna come of this.”