HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lunel and Phil Haysmer had saved up over a lifetime for their little retirement home in lower Puna.
It was their slice ― their gift to themselves. And in no time at all, really, it was gone.
Lunel didn't see it go. She doesn't want to get too metaphysical about it, but she suspects that was the way it was supposed to be.
She says the day before the house was taken started out normal enough. But there was something amiss.
Lunel had been in the garden that morning, trying to quell her anxiety and do something productive.
Everyone knew something was about to happen ― cracks were forming on roads, and the volcanologists had confirmed massive rivers of magma were traveling underground to the lower east rift zone.
But nobody knew what the next days and weeks and months would hold.
And certainly not Phil and Lunel.
About midday on May 2, Lunel went inside to make lunch.
And it was then, at the kitchen counter preparing sandwiches, that she suddenly felt off. The next thing she remembers: Waking up in a hospital.
Her husband had to fill in the details for her.
He recalls Lunel clutching her head with both hands, and telling him that she needed to go take a nap. Lunel then stretched out on the bed, closed her eyes, had a seizure and slipped into a coma.
She was rushed to the hospital.
The next day, an exhausted Phil returned to their home to feed the pets, grab a bite for himself and to check on things.
He was working on autopilot, exhausted mentally and physically, when Civil Defense knocked at the door. The message was crystal clear: Get out now. Grab your pets. Take your important documents. And leave.
Phil mustered the energy to do just that, carting the dogs and a few important possessions off to safety at a friend's home. He got there about midnight, and closed his eyes against his better judgment.
The next morning, a friend delivered the news: His house was gone.
The house that Lunel and Phil had built. The house where they’d invited friends for dinner, and celebrated anniversaries and birthdays. The house where they’d dumped all of their savings ― the proceeds of their mainland business and the sale of their Victorian.
The place where they’d imagined living until the end of their lives: Destroyed.
The couple would later learn their home had been taken by a lava-sparked fire. And in the days and weeks to come, as the eruption’s intensity and ferocity grew, lava would claim everything that the flames hadn't.
The spot where their precious home once lived is now a giant mound of cooled black lava. Fissure no. 8 had opened up there.
Lunel woke up on May 4, the day after the eruption started.
Her first memory: Seeing Phil standing next to her hospital bed. A nurse was there, too, when everything started shaking.
A 6.9 earthquake rocked every corner of the Big Island as lava outflows continued. It was Kilauea stretching awake in earnest, heralding the beginnings of a months-long eruption that would destroy whole communities and displace hundreds.
Phil and Lunel might have been among the eruption’s first victims, but they wouldn’t be its last. Over the months to come, more than 700 homes would be lost.
After a period in the hospital, Lunel was released ― with unrealistic instructions to rest and avoid stress ― and the couple stayed in the garage of a generous family that had also taken in other lava evacuees.
They were grateful for what they still had left: A community of support, their pets, each other.
But they were devastated, too.
One image kept popping into Phil’s head: An elderly man pushing all his possessions in a shopping cart on the street.
Is that where we’re headed, he thought.
“If you can imagine one day you’re financially OK … and then all of a sudden, it’s just not there. Nothing was there,” he said.
“Everything was gone.”
The couple’s home was insured. And so, they thought, at least there’s the chance for a fresh start.
But they soon realized that wasn’t guaranteed, either.
Their insurance company denied their claim and, like a number of other lava evacuees, they ended up hiring an attorney and filing suit. Lloyd’s of London eventually did approve their payout. They got the news two days before Thanksgiving, more than five months after they’d lost their home.
By that time, Lunel and Phil had started to move on. They’d relocated to Volcano and, with help from friends, had found a new place.
That Thanksgiving was a special one, Lunel says. They really were incredibly thankful. Thankful for things — a home, a life — that they’d never really thought they’d have to be thankful for.
“Everything’s on loan,” Lunel had realized then. “Everything’s temporary so be grateful for what you have.”
But things were hardly back to normal.
After leaving the hospital, Lunel had developed post-traumatic stress disorder and found herself upset and anxious over seemingly small and everyday things. Traffic noise. Changes to routine.
Sometimes, she’d go to bed and refuse to emerge. Not to eat or to drink.
Phil was struggling to keep things together for the both of them.
Things were so tough for so long that the couple hadn’t returned to their property in Leilani Estates since their home was taken. They just couldn’t.
But finally, in March, they mustered the courage. They would face it.
Ten months after their home was destroyed, they would go back to make peace with their loss. There were a lot of tears that day.
But there was joy, too, and some dark humor. “I’m really glad I’m not underneath there since it opened up in my front yard,” Lunel had joked.
She’d added: “It’s very humbling to see such power.”
Phil said the return to Leilani Estates helped him realize just how difficult the last year had been. Just how much they’d gone through.
It also helped him to appreciate his friends: The people who had sheltered them, who’d comforted them.
The insurance payout, he said, means they’re on surer financial footing than they were for so many months after losing their home.
What’s more difficult to manage is the emotional toll.
“It’s still pretty sketchy some days,” he said. Their new property in Volcano isn’t the little piece of heaven they’d built in Leilani Estates. It isn’t what they’d worked for all those years.
But, he said, “it’s turning into home.”