Lava update: Lanipuna Garden subdivision on edge, too

  • Hawaii Army National Guard Specialists B.J. Echalas of Ka'u and Richie Oiterong of Palau assist Hawaii Police Department officers Monday at a checkpoint at the corner of Highway 137 and Pohoiki Road. (JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald)
  • A hole and accompanying crack vents steam Monday on Pohoiki Road between Hinalo Street in Lanipuna Gardens and Leilani Avenue in Leilani Estates.(JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald)

LANIPUNA GARDENS — With daily updates of more volcanic fissures opening and lava destroying homes in Leilani Estates, it’s easy to forget that Lanipuna Gardens, a smaller neighboring subdivision, also remains under evacuation order by Hawaii County Civil Defense.

As of Monday, no lava-spewing fissures had broken out in Lanipuna. Pohoiki Road, however, which connects Lanipuna with Leilani Estates and Highway 137 along the Puna coastline, was sporting a crack across the road, and a hole in the makai-bound lane between Hinalo Street in Lanipuna and Leilani Avenue.

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A wispy steam plume emanated from the hole Monday afternoon and the road was coned off by the state Highways Division at that point.

Pohoiki Road is closed except to local traffic, and Puna police manned a checkpoint Monday at the corner of Highway 137, also known as Kapoho-Kalapana Road and Red Road. Officers were assisted by two Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers, who handed out bottled water and snacks.

In Lanipuna, it was overcast, and although air-quality concerns caused Hawaii County Civil Defense to order the evacuation of the subdivision, there was no telltale smell of sulfur, which could mean toxic sulfur dioxide gas at elevated levels.

And while most heeded the call to evacuate, Aaron Mitchell decided to stick it out in his home, at least for now.

“I’m just staying here, keeping an eye on the neighborhood. We are on a dead end, so I’m just making sure nobody’s here who’s not supposed to be here,” Mitchell said Monday. “We’ve got goats and dogs and chickens. And there’s parakeets. … They’ve all been left behind and have to be tended.”

Mitchell said other than more helicopters over the estimated 300-resident subdivision, “It’s been pretty much business as usual, to be honest.”

According to Mitchell, the helicopter traffic “comes in waves.”

“It’ll be quiet for an hour, and then we’ll get four or five all at once,” he said.

Mitchell’s neighbor, Jenny Haubert, was among those who evacuated. She returned home Monday to gather more possessions and check on her property. Haubert was accompanied by her dog, Buddy, a terrier mix.

“It’s chaotic getting everything out really quickly. I slept at the shelter one night, and now I have a nice couple putting me up in Hilo,” Haubert said. “After the (Saturday) meeting in (Pahoa), everybody was talking about looting and about trying to get back in. And the cops said, ‘We’re gonna try and work with you guys.’ So now, I’ve seen way more cops going up and down the road than I did initially.”

Lanipuna resident Kip Williams also evacuated, but also returned home Monday to check on his property.

“I was concerned about my wife and my dog. So I took them and we went to the shelter for awhile,” Williams said. “But some friends in Kurtistown invited us to stay there, so we’ve been there. This is the second time we’ve come back to check on things. And thanks to Aaron and the people who’ve stuck it out, we’ve been pretty good. Our house has been fine.”

During Sunday afternoon’s media briefing, county Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno estimated there were fewer than a dozen holdouts who ignored the evacuation order.

“I would say that’s a serious underestimate,” said Williams, who guessed “about half” the residents in his neighborhood within the subdivision stayed behind.

Most Lanipuna homes are connected to the electrical grid and have county water, as well, although Mitchell said the subdivision “ran out a couple of days ago.”

“According to the field supervisor, the tank on the other side of Hinalo should be filled in about three days,” he said. “I was out on Pohoiki yesterday and the Department of Water’s doing this huge, mile-long replacement tube so we can get water.”

“This is kind of the upgrade of moving here, getting away from catchment,” Mitchell added. “But now it would be kind of convenient to have it.”

Williams also heard the concerns about looting, but he said he’s seen numerous examples of the “aloha spirit” during the current Kilauea volcano lava crisis.

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“I think people who moved here just sort of assumed it’s going to be an aloha situation, and it’s been that way,” he said. “Everybody’s willing to help. Nobody’s looking to pass you fast on the road to get around. If it were Mount St. Helen’s, I think it would be different, but here, everybody’s accustomed to the type of lava flows that Kilauea has put out, historically. They know you certainly want to be aware, but it’s not a panic situation.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.