EXCLUSIVE: Puna family's home spared by lava flows three times in 30 years

EXCLUSIVE: Puna family's home spared by lava flows three times in 30 years

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lava flows have threatened one Puna home three times in the last 30 years, but each time the Kaawaloa family's land in Kupahua has been spared.

In the past three decades, approximately 500 families have been displaced by lava flows from Kaimu to Kapaahu.

In 1986, 2006 and 2012 -- the Kaawaloa home came within feet of being destroyed, but was never touched.

"My mom always would teach us that when you respect and malama the aina, the aina going take care of you," said Piilani Kaawaloa, whose family has lived in Kupahua, near Kalapana for generations.

Piilani can vividly recall each time the lava approached her home, but the 2006 flow is seared in her memory. That's the year former Hawai'i Island Mayor and Civil Defense Director Harry Kim came to her house three times in one day to urge the family to pack up and leave.

"As soon as he left my mom told us to come outside and go mow the lawn. Go in the house and clean the house, change the bedding. We were kind of puzzled, you know, we were thinking, 'Oh no! She's going to give us bad time. We might have to carry her out or do something drastic, but we didn't say anything. We went listen and we cleaned the house, the yard -- everything," Piilani said.

It was lunchtime when Kim returned to warn Piilani's mother once again.

"'Minnie, the lava is right by your driveway. If you don't come out now, you're going get trapped!' and my mom smiled at Harry Kim and she said, 'Yeah Harry, okay. We're going to come. We almost pau.' And so he looked at her and he shook his head and he got back into his car and he drove off," Piilani described.

But first Piilani's mother made her children gather for lunch, a prayer and an important lesson.

"She looked at us and she said, 'You know how come I asked you folks to clean the yard and the house?' and we all looked at her and we didn't say anything. And then she said, 'What do you do when you are preparing for a guest? An important guest?' and we say, 'Oh, clean the house. Get the house ready.' And she says, 'That's what we doing. We getting ready for a very important guest and if this guest wants to stay at the house, the house is there. And if the guest doesn't want to, then she can leave but at least we made an offer. And if Ke Akua wants to come and stay in the house at this time as well, then everything and everyone is connected in some way shape or form and they can come and stay. If the kupunas want to come and stay in the house during this time, they can," Piilani said.

The family was just clearing the table when Kim returned for a third time. This time he wasn't leaving without the Kaawaloa's.

"We loaded up the car and the truck and then we drove down and when we got down to the bottom of our driveway, she got out of the car and she walked up to the flow that was right there -- sure enough it was right there at the driveway -- and she walked up and she cried and she spoke to the lava flow and she prayed and then she came back to the car and she said, 'Okay, we go.' and then we left," Piilani said, describing her mother's emotional departure.

It was weeks before the Kaawaloa's could return and when Kim finally gave them the clear, there was no road left.

"We hiked in. It was about an hour and half, hour and 45 minutes -- and we were hiking over hot lava, red hot lava. She was trucking it like no tomorrow and we were behind huffing and puffing with our backpacks and the generator and everybody had parts of the lawn mower. And we were thinking, you know, 'If the house went burn down, what we going lawn mower? What we going hook up the generator to?' So us, ye of little faith, yeah? But her -- so much faith and so much confidence and as soon as she came to the hill out in the front, she looked in and she saw the roof of the house and she turned back to us and as loud as she could scream, 'See! I told you folks! The lava never take our house!'" Piilani said, choking up.

"You could hear the cry, the tears, the happiness and the mahalo she had that we were fortunate that our home was spared. So when we all got there, she told us to put the lawn mower together and mow the yard. She set up the generator, and we cleaned the house. And the whole time she was thanking Ke Akua, thanking Tutu Pele, thanking nature, the elements, the kupuna for watching over our family and our home. And she was praying for all the other families. Until the day she passed away, she kept praying so that the 'ohana can move home," Piilani said with tears in her eyes.

"Everybody has their own name for Ke Akua and their own belief, but your faith is through your actions and so for us we're living proof of that and I'm hoping to be able to carry on my kupuna's legacy and pass it on to the next generation. It'll be a testament should another lava flow come through, should we have that same mana as my mom and my dad -- that we can have that same connection that they had should another lava flow come through," Piilani said.

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