WATCH: 'Pele's Path: Eyewitness to History,' an HNN digital documentary

Hawaii News Now journalists describe covering the milestone moments at the start of the devastating natural disaster.
Published: May. 23, 2018 at 9:21 PM HST|Updated: May. 24, 2018 at 9:00 AM HST
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KILAUEA VOLCANO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Covering a disaster like the eruptions on the Big Island takes a toll.

And no one knows that better than the team of HNN reporters who have helped cover this remarkable story — of devastation and creation.

As part of our digital documentary, "Pele's Path: Eyewitness to History," we offer a look at what it's been like to cover ongoing eruptions that have upended lives and left whole swaths of lower Puna unrecognizable.

Check out our reporters' notebooks:

Shortly after the first fissure opened in Leilani Estates, reporter Mileka Lincoln rushed to Puna.

"We got out of the car and it was right there," she said. "And it was unlike anything I've ever heard in my life."

So began a weeks-long journey for the Big Island native as she sought to get the latest information to residents while also ensuring people across the state and nation heard the stories of those affected and understood the scope of the disaster.

Lincoln, sitting on a lanai overlooking a fissure shooting lava fountains into the air, said covering the eruptions and related seismic activity — including a 6.9 earthquake in early May — has been surreal.

"If there is one way to describe what this situation has been, it's unpredictable," she said. "It's unlike anything I've ever covered."

She added that the spectacle of the eruptions is, no doubt, captivating. "It is incredible to see the power of creation, literally earth being built," she said.

But, she added, it's vital that everyone remember those who have lost so much in this ongoing disaster — especially as weeks turn to months.

"There has been so much loss and heartache," she said.

The first thing HNN's Lynn Kawano did when she landed on the Big Island in the wake of eruptions in Puna was get back in the air.

Kawano and her photographer jumped into a helicopter. Their goal: To see the fissures opening up in Leilani Estates and understand the bigger picture.

She wasn't disappointed. From the chopper, she was able to see the clear line of fissures, marching their way downslope and toward the sea.

Kawano said the disaster facing the Big Island is particularly hard to cover because it's always changing.

"Everyone refers to this eruption as dynamic and that really is the best way to describe it," she said. "This event is so historic and documenting it is so important."

There are some stories that just stick with you. Some people who you'll never forget.

Mahealani Richardson says covering the impact to communities of ongoing eruptions in lower Puna has moved her.

"We, as journalists, get to go home at the end of the day," she said. "But these residents, they're here."

Richardson said she so met so many people who were dealing with adversity and somehow were still able to smile.

"They're forever changed by this eruption," she said. "I'm just really impressed by how the community of Puna has come together to help each other. We don't know how long this eruption will last and they have so many uncertain things."

Ben Gutierrez has covered hurricanes, floods, fires.

Covering Kilauea's eruptions in the lower east rift zone, though, has been something else entirely.

"This one is different," he said. "We do not know when this is going to stop."

While on the Big Island, Gutierrez traveled with the National Guard to see a line of lava that had crossed a roadway in Leilani Estates.

It was still cooling when they arrived, smoldering in areas.

Gutierrez also got to see the incredible caring of so many in Puna — neighbors and perfect strangers who went out of their way to donate whatever they could to evacuees.

"It showed me once again the resilience of this area," he said.

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