Army of volunteers help lava evacuees as vigorous eruptions continue

Volunteers help evacuees recover mentally, emotionally as lava renders neighborhoods unrecognizable
Published: Jun. 17, 2018 at 9:23 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 18, 2018 at 2:39 PM HST
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Fissure no. 8 continues to create a channelized flow that's emptying into the ocean off Kapoho....
Fissure no. 8 continues to create a channelized flow that's emptying into the ocean off Kapoho. (Image: USGS)
It's been more than 6 weeks since eruptions started on the Big Island. (Image: USGS)
It's been more than 6 weeks since eruptions started on the Big Island. (Image: USGS)

PAHOA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than six weeks after eruptions started on the Big Island, there's no relief in sight for thousands of weary evacuees.

And as the crisis continues, those who have been displaced are finding they don't just need help with shelter, food and hygiene facilities. They need help dealing with the stress and anxiety of losing their homes or losing access to their homes.

"They may have sleeplessness, they may be irritable, they may be short tempered," said Ginger Van Ry, mental health volunteer with the American Red Cross of Hawaii. "Some people may just feel a unique sense of sadness that everything they had is gone."

Van Ry has helped people after hurricanes in Texas and a mass shooting in Washington state.

And she said whatever the disaster, victims have the same questions: "What's going to happen next?" and "How do I plan for the future?"

"It's very hard for people to envision themselves moving forward," Van Ry said, adding that she's learned every disaster is different.

[Civil Defense: At least 533 homes destroyed by lava in ongoing eruptions]

Since eruptions started May 3, at least 533 homes have been confirmed destroyed and more than 100 more are feared claimed by lava.

And since lava broke to the surface, it has overrun 5,914 acres of land, or roughly 9.25 square miles.

The new numbers announced Sunday come as lava from the most active fissure in lower Puna — no. 8 — continues to create a fast-moving channelized flow through Kapoho and into the ocean.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Geological Survey said Monday that another fissure — no. 6 — reactivated overnight, creating small spatter feeding short lava flows.

Air quality also remains an issue as hazardous gases and ash clog the air.

And large earthquakes and steam explosions at the summit of Kilauea have also been occurring on an almost daily basis, with one happening approximately 24 hours after the next. Scientists say the activity is following a "fairly reliable pattern."

Early Monday, a 5.3- magnitude earthquake shook Kilauea's summit, but it wasn't powerful enough to generate a tsunami.

Monday marked the seventh day in a row that there was an earthquake above a magnitude of 5.0 at the summit. None of them was strong enough to trigger a tsunami, and all of them were triggered by an explosive eruption at the summit.

Seismic activity in the region has ramped up over the past month as eruptions continue. Over a 24- to 36-hour period, small earthquakes are building up until an ash explosion occurs at the summit, according to USGS officials.

"Following the explosion at the summit, the seismicity will sharply drop off, and then gradually begin to build up as we approach the next summit explosion," said Alex Demas, of USGS.

He said these are not traditional earthquakes, but are being created by a pressure wave from each explosion.

"So as long as the summit explosions continue, there likely will be earthquakes and ground shaking associated with the explosion," he said.

Experts expect heavier vog to blanket the interior and southern parts of the Big Island as these eruptions continue. The Department of Health recommends that residents with breathing issues should limit outside activities and stay indoors.

Meanwhile, thousands remain evacuated and hundreds have turned to Red Cross shelters for help.

Life in the shelters is far from perfect, but volunteers say they're doing their best to make things as comfortable as possible.

"I feel confident and comfortable that they are ready to move on to the next phase," Van Ry said. "So those are the things that I take away from a deployment like this."

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