'Wait and see': For lava evacuees, the right help can be hard to find

Updated: Jun. 18, 2018 at 5:41 PM HST
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Fissure no. 8 continues to erupt vigorously, creating channelized lava flows toward the sea....
Fissure no. 8 continues to erupt vigorously, creating channelized lava flows toward the sea. (Image: USGS)

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since it opened four days ago, hundreds of lava evacuees have turned to the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center for help.

What exactly that help looks like is as varied as the people looking for it.

"Everybody's got a different story but I think a lot of people are just unsure because the fissure just keeps going," said Thomas Mason, who evacuated from his home in Leilani Estates with his wife.

The Masons moved from Maui in November and started building their retirement home on Kupono Street in February. They were just about ready for drywall when the first fissure opened up on Mohala Street on May 3.

Twenty-three fissures later, their home is now in an area that's been classified as uninhabitable.

Although their house is unfinished, it's still standing. But it's completely inaccessible.

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

"Are they going to condemn that area? It's right next to fissure 8. Are they going to eminent domain? Are they going to say you weren't finished so you really don't have anything anyway, see you later?" Mason said.

He spent three hours at the FEMA center on Friday, but was told his situation was so unique he should prepare for rejection and be ready to appeal.

Like so many others, the Masons don't have insurance. And their situation underscores the complexities of a disaster whose end is nowhere in sight.

"You don't get house insurance until you have a house. We got three quarters of a house," he said.

Since eruptions started, at least 533 homes have been confirmed destroyed. Authorities fear the true figure is upwards of 700.

If FEMA doesn't come through with assistance, Mason says he has no idea what he and his wife will do.

The only certainty is that after 34 years together, they won't be moving into the home they started building on Valentine's Day.

"I think it's just the wait and see of what's going to happen," he said.

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