Obenski: Hawaii has almost all of world’s wonders — natural disasters included

We all, well, most of us, live on Hawaii because we want to. There are few who don’t.

Some miss the entertainment opportunity of a big city, or need special medical care not available here. Some miss their family or at least part of it. There are also people who want to live here but cannot find the employment opportunities. Hawaii, like Wyoming, is a small town with very long streets. Forty mile commutes to a minimum wage job are common. Ten miles to the nearest store is not uncommon, but at least it only takes 20 minutes.


Why do so many of us love living on the world’s smallest continent? We have 90 percent of the planet’s climate zones. One of the wettest places on earth and one of the driest are 6 miles apart. You could write a scientific text on almost any ‘ology by exploring the Big Island. In 4,000 square miles we have more range of elevation (sea level to 14,000 feet) than all but two other states. More fish and marine mammal species than you can imagine. Chamber of Commerce could make an ad “Explore most of Earth’s characteristics in one rental car. From snow-capped mountain to sunny beaches, desert to jungle.”

It’s quiet in the country. When the coqui frogs rest one can hear the butterflies. The pace is easy. Two in line at the grocery is rush hour. Aloha time is like manana, but without the urgency. If someone promises Wednesday it’s best to ask which Wednesday; he may not mean this week. We have an incredible variety of plants and animals, but almost none of the aggressive kind. No snakes, wolves or skunks. No lions, tigers and bears. The Pu’uhonua O Honaunau Park has bear-proof trash cans that work so well the nearest bears are in California. There are many things we don’t have, but mostly things we can do without: snow shovels, tire chains, mittens, suits and neckties.

There is a price we pay and some of our neighbors are paying more than their share. Having all those climate and geologic zones means we are susceptible to every possible natural disaster.

Currently, it is an increase in the volcanic eruption, a Hawaiian one of course, on aloha time. Kilauea eruptions last about 100 years as far as we know since haoles have only been keeping records for about 200 years.

Fortunately, it’s a slow motion eruption and it’s possible to walk out of the way. Not like the 10 seconds of Krakatau; a violent explosion heard in Japan 3,000 miles away. The name even sounds like an explosion. (The popular spelling BTW, Krakatoa, is a typo). Still for those whose uninsurable homes in Lava Zone 1 are threatened by molten lava, flames and toxic gasses paradise may have lost its charm.

The last two hurricanes also devastated Puna District possibly affecting some of the same brave people. They also put up with the greatest concentration of coqui frogs. One coqui is cute, 10 sound like a chain saw but Puna has as many as 30,000 coquies per acre, that’s like living in a sawmill.

Our public services are stretched thin to ensure health and safety but are doing a great job in spite of the extra challenge of delivering the help on an island. On the mainland disaster relief can come from the next state or hundreds even a thousand miles away with relative ease, but Hawaii’s nearest neighbor is 2,600 miles of ocean away. Many homes in Zone 1 are built as movable modules, but it takes more warning than they got to arrange relocation after a few years of settling in.


It’s hard to know how to help without getting in the way, but the disaster agencies can all use your donation. Money can be spent on what they need right now, whether it’s food, water or helicopter fuel.

Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a biweekly column for West Hawaii Today. Email obenskik@gmail.com.