Lava crossed the first road bordering Pahoa Village at 3:50am early Saturday morning. It took over the cemetery I’ve never even seen Sunday afternoon. An O’ahu newscaster made her clip that night posed in front of the little dip in the road that has the banyan at the bottom that I drive by most days of the week. Evacuation notices have been passed out to those “in the direct path of the flow.” It all seems surreal, as if it couldn’t be happening to our little town. I know I have to remember I did choose to move here even as the lava was flowing back then. I just didn’t expect … this.
In late September when the lava was headed toward Kaohe Homesteads, there was a rush and frenzy, and it just felt like no one was totally prepared. The advancement slowed enough to let us all re-evaluate our plans. By traveling farther northeast and crossing a secondary road used primarily by homeowners and pot smoking employees of the town businesses, I have to feel lighter knowing that homes were not the first thing taken by lava. Yet the severing of Pahoa is inevitable. With an unclear timeline and an unpredictable outcome, all we know for sure is life will change. I still don’t think anyone is really ready.
My daughter was all excited about Spirit Week which started Monday with Sports or Career Day- dress up in your favorite sports attire or what you want to be when you grow up. We picked out clothes that we thought would look good on a teacher. Her parent teacher conference was today. She couldn’t wait to wear her Elsa costume to school on Friday but the paper that got sent home today states that there will be no school on Thursday or Friday so she can wear her costume tomorrow. Yesterday I picked up enrollment papers for another school, I told her teacher thanks for being a good one today and will drop off the enrollment papers tomorrow in hopes she can start there on Monday. She’s only five, but we’ve told her that the lava is coming and tried to prep her for a new school. She tells me one time, “Pele is angry, so my friend moved to Kona,” and she’s excited about switching schools. Kids are resilient. It all seems so cut and dry. I wish I could borrow some of that quality right now.
In late September, my family and I walk into one of the local businesses for some takeout. The woman adores our kids and gives them hugs and sodas. She loads up our plates and has such a winning smile that even though I’ve never learned her name correctly, we always make small talk and tip well. When my husband asked how they were preparing for the lava, she kind of laughed and said, “Lava, haha, yes” before returning to work. We don’t speak the same language but it seemed as though she knew the word, but maybe not the situation. A friend on Facebook posted just about the same experience with the same woman a couple of weeks later.
Similarly, I walk up to the paper machine on Sunday to get the paper and a woman stops behind me. She makes a half gasp and says, “Oh, it crossed the road? Where?” I guess the lava only crossed Apaa Road a few days ago, but to me, if lava is close, I’m going to keep my eyes and ears open to any communication about it. Civil Defense makes new reports every morning and every radio station replays them throughout the day. I’m usually on Facebook at least once a day and my feed is plastered with every post about the lava from every source there possibly is. In some ways, the information is stressing since lava is such a permanent disaster and is taking an incredibly long time, but I’d rather know than not. If only I could be so blissfully okay with not knowing as it seems these two women are.
There will be so many affected by this current lava flow. It took over five years to cover the Royal Gardens Subdivision in Kalapana and then Pu’u O’o was still flowing in that same area for the ensuing 20. This lick of lava has traveled much farther east than ever before. The cracks of the East Rift Zone made a channel for it and when the lava exited, it meandered north which slopes down toward Pahoa. Everything tapers off to either side of the rift zone, so if it had found a different crack, maybe it would have exited south and drifted closer to the old flows. Now if it follows the steepest descent models, the lava stands to cut off numerous mapped subdivisions, hundreds of farms and homesteads as well as more than half of Pahoa Village. I am lucky to be on the other side, but my father-in-law and many of my friends aren’t.
The situations of residents are so varied. Some who can have already moved. Out of those staying, some have made it a choice to stay while others have no other option but to stay. The retired couple on a fixed income with a mortgage on their home, the guy’s company that will let him transfer but won’t help him or his family with moving costs, one woman’s plan to utilize credit card offers of 0%APR to help build her house and roll it all into a mortgage falls through now that there is a no-sell insurance moratorium on everything in Lava Zones 1 and 2. There are so many stories that start with living in paradise until the Hawaiian goddess of lava decides to make her firelight dance.Through it all, I do feel the heart and soul of Pahoa is getting stronger and can pull together, but I think the length of time it is taking is the hardest to endure.
If we could just know Pele’s path, we’d all pitch in to help people move and make a beautiful way for her; if she could just do it within a couple of days rather than weeks, months and years; if she didn’t have to go through Pahoa…
Even though we were just there a week ago and enjoyed seeing Pahoa and the surrounding area, this does bring another perspective to what is becoming a town tragedy. And it is not just the portion that is being covered by the lava. Let us all hope that the town and its friends can be as resilient as children. Keep safe and strong in the days to come.