State pledges $12M for lava response as number of homes destroyed rises to 600

600 homes confirmed destroyed on Big Island as state pledges new aid
Published: Jun. 4, 2018 at 3:05 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 8, 2018 at 4:02 PM HST
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Lava has completely covered Vacationland and is pouring into the ocean (Image: USGS)
Lava has completely covered Vacationland and is pouring into the ocean (Image: USGS)
A huge lava flow heads toward Kapoho and the sea. (Image: Tropical Visions Video)
A huge lava flow heads toward Kapoho and the sea. (Image: Tropical Visions Video)
Fountains as high as 220 feet tall shoot from fissure no. 9 in Leilani Estates. (Image: Mick...
Fountains as high as 220 feet tall shoot from fissure no. 9 in Leilani Estates. (Image: Mick Kalber/Tropical Visions Video)

PAHOA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state is sending $12 million to the Big Island to help pay for the mounting costs of responding to Kilauea's ongoing eruptions, which have destroyed at least 600 homes over the last five weeks.

Already, the county has shelled out at least $3 million for disaster response, officials said.

Gov. David Ige announced the payout Thursday, five weeks to the day after the first fissure opened in Leilani Estates.

"I don't think any of us knew it would get to this point," Ige said, at a news conference. "Obviously things in the last few days have escalated significantly with fissure 8 continuing to put out a lot of volume of lava. It certainly has escalated the impact and devastation of the area."

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim opened the news conference on a somber note, but said state and federal support made him optimistic.

He also confirmed that at least 600 homes have now been destroyed, including 100 percent of the Vacationland subdivision and all but about 30 homes in Kapoho Beach Lots.

"The past few days have got to be one of the saddest in my long life that I've experienced," said Kim. "But we're going to do this. We will work as a team at the federal, state, our governor, so we eliminate all the bureaucracy delays that are natural, so we can get it done as soon as possible."

That "this" is the construction of a new community to replace those lost to lava. But details on what that community would look like or even where it would be haven't been hammered out.

The governor said a task force has convened to begin to answer those questions.

"It definitely means we will have to confront and respond to very tough questions as to why people should live in certain places," he said.

The announcements came as fissure no. no. 8 continued to erupt "vigorously," spewing fountains as high as 230 feet into the air. Lava from the fissure is continuing to feed a flow that's cascading into the water off Kapoho and forming new land. That delta is about 1.2 miles wide in the Vacationland area alone, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said.

So far, geologists add, the ongoing eruptions have pumped out enough lava to fill more than 45,000 Olympic-sized pools and cover Manhattan in 6 and a half feet of lava.

Earlier this week, flows took out entire neighborhoods and hundreds of homes in Kapoho. The decimation of most of Vacationland and Kapoho Beach Lots is believed to be the most destructive day of any eruption in modern times.

"I lost everything," said Gregory Braun, one of hundreds of property owners assessing the damage. His wife lost a vacation rental. And his 40-year-old flower business, with five acres of orchids, is now gone.

"Hawaii probably lost half of the state's cut flower orchid production in four days," he said. "We just didn't believe it would happen. We were there for so long and we were so established."

Dodie Jordan and her husband were forced from their rental in Kapoho Beach Lots. Finding a new place to stay won't be easy.

"It's incredibly emotional," she said. "I've seen this incredible bay and area that we love and was dear to our hearts just change within hours. Not even days. She's covered so much ground so fast, I don't know what Madame Pele's ideas are, but she changed a really pretty place."

On Wednesday, U.S. Geological Survey officials said lava has also spread over all of Vacationland to the south, and is pouring into the ocean nearby. To the north, lava has covered all but a small portion of Kapoho Beach Lots.

The lava not only took hundreds of homes overnight into Tuesday, but it completely filled Kapoho Bay.

Officials say the flow is now extending .8 miles from the coastline.

The destruction wrought in a matter of days in the area eclipses the number of homes destroyed in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions, where the eruptions first started more than a month ago.

Officials haven't yet released the total number of homes destroyed in Kapoho. But the assessment that "hundreds" more had been claimed by lava came just a day after the official figure was put at 159.

Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, said there were at least 350 homes at Kapoho Beach Lots and 140 in Vacationland. Most of those homes are believed to have been lost.

"It's a slow-moving flow. Nothing stops it," Magno said. "The volcano is going strong."

There was some confusion on Tuesday concerning Big Island Mayor Harry Kim's second home in Vacationland. Officials believed it was lost, then announced it was spared. But by 10 p.m., they said an overflight had confirmed the home was gone.

For homeowners who lost everything to the eruption, they may apply for assistance by filling out a Universal Intake form at the recovery information center located at the Pahoa Community Center.

At a community meeting on Tuesday night, Kim offered words of encouragement to constituents.

"In the darkest of times I asked you to stick with us. Together, all of us, as a community," he said. "If we have the will, we will make it better. Hang in people, we'll get it done."

County Managing Director Wil Okabe said his own vacation home in Kapoho Beach Lots was also threatened by lava. He said the area is a mix of vacation rentals and year-round residences.

"For us it's more of a vacation area, but for those who live there permanently, they're trying to figure out where they're going to be living," he said.

Kirk Rahmer became one of dozens of people who lost their homes over the weekend.

"I left a lot of things behind because I didn't want to feel as if I was abandoning my home," Rahmer said. "So I'm real sad. I've always considered myself a tenant of Pele, so this may be my eviction notice."

Satellite images show a wide river of lava crawling over Kapoho, taking out everything in its path.

As the lava hits the water, it's creating plumes of "laze," a toxic steam mixed with glass fragments.

Kathy Emery, who evacuated from her 5-acre farm in Kapoho, said she doesn't know if she has a home to go back to.

"Right now, we don't have anything. And I don't know what to do," she said. "I wish I could just find out if I have a house."

Seismic activity, meanwhile, remains very active at Kilauea.

On Tuesday morning, a 5.6-magnitude quake struck near the summit. And on Sunday afternoon, 5.5-magnitude quake centered near Kilauea's summit rocked the Big Island. No tsunamis were generated by either earthquake.

Since May 4, some 12,000 quakes have rattled Hawaii Island, the USGS said.

Also over the weekend, lava apparently evaporated Green Lake, which was the largest freshwater lake in the islands. Green Lake is believed to be four centuries old, and at least one study put its depth at 200 feet in spots.

The devastating flow that cut through Kapoho can all be sourced back to fissure no. 8, which has been creating fountains of lava for nearly two weeks.

Ahead of the flow, authorities urged residents in Kapoho and Vacationland to flee. Separately, a mandatory evacuation zone remains in place for about half of lava-ravaged Leilani Estates. Thousands have evacuated from their homes amid the eruptions, staying in shelters or with friends and family.

Big Island officials said they are looking at creating mid- and long-term housing options for evacuees.

This story will be updated.

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