Posting personal processes versus sensationalism

Since June 27th, lava has flowed eastward from a vent on the side of Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, to threaten a town on the island of Hawai’i. Within the last month, it has jogged both north and east and has barely spared a rural subdivision on the outskirts of Pahoa in the district of Puna. Its march has taken months but stress has whipped up an emotional frenzy in the last week as the lava has moved as much as a football field in a day. Over the last  three days, there has been very little advancement on the leading edge of the front but the lava is still just over a mile from the first road of the town limits. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory employees have predicted it to cross the only highway in and out of the area in mere weeks, cutting off access to tens of thousands of residents. Emergency access routes are being finished, and looters have already made their presence known by vandalizing the equipment. Power and communication providers say they will do their best to supply uninterrupted service, but, still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Iselle that hit August 8, they can only do so much when faced with a lava inundation. People, their homes, their jobs and their livelihoods are faced with a natural disaster not common at all. One that could take the burgeoning growth of Pahoa and turn it into a literal ghost town.

The stress of this slow moving event has hit everyone in different ways. Many residents have already moved or are in the process of moving. Others are preparing to hunker down and be a Puna survivor. Sites on Facebook have popped up, starting support systems and lists of resources to help those who are staying. Others are caught in the middle and trying to stay but are willing to relocate if any number of situations arise on top of the existing state of emergency. The decisions to stay or to go are also deeply entangled within the full spectrum of attitudes and emotions. Welcome or unwelcome, the subject of lava sneaks into every conversation in Pahoa, and no one can make any firm plans outside of a week since the lava overtaking the highway will change everyone’s schedules. Tears and nostalgia are prolific as many of the current residents remember living and having to move during the flows that took Kalapana  and the Royal Gardens subdivision in the 80s. Some are reverent and have trust that Pele, the matriarch of the lava, will spare what she wants or, if not, it was always hers to begin with. A few are in celebratory mode, saying that Pele is cleaning house and this is just what Puna needs. Social media has been an outlet for support, sympathy and sensationalism, and wading through it has been an intense roller coaster by itself.

My friends on Facebook and I have posted it all. Seemingly tied to the five stages of grief and loss, our disbelief, anger and sadness of losing our current way of life has been displayed for thousands. Some have to take it day by day or hour by hour: a puddle of tears leading to a strong stance of semi-acceptance and then falling back into hitching breaths. Others have been able to come to the supposed acceptance quicker and say they won’t stress about it until they have to deal with it. One of my friends who is a cashier in Pahoa had to go on a rant about the customers who are reveling in the idea that Puna will be cut off and can return to the good old days. She goes on in her diatribe to say that most of these people weren’t here even five years ago so have no actual clue what it was like back in the day, and to throw their happiness in the faces of so many who are struggling is pathetic and callous. Pictures galore are being posted: aerial views of the lava as it skims the borders of Kaohe Homesteads, a picture of the lava tube that is feeding the flow, the slow molasses-like ropy pahoehoe lava burning the jungle trees it touches, billowing clouds tinged a terra cotta from the intense heat, and plenty of night time pictures capturing the captivating glow from multiple locations near and far. These are all posted and shared as a process of our own personal fight to stay sane and calm. They are meant to help those both here in the same situation and those far who still have ties to the island to see what is happening and how we are dealing with both the good and the bad.

There are other posts that are not meant to help, and, I have to assume, posted only to sensationalize the story or promote hits to their own sites. Two such posts came through my feed last week. One was of a man with a camera standing in front of a veritable wall of lava. It came from a research institute claiming to promote certain practices with fire and the caption read that this was happening right now in the town with the Thai buffet where they had come for their last conference. Luckily for many of the uninformed viewers, one commenter revealed the real origin of the photo and posted the link. It had come from a Mauna Loa flow in 1984. The other post originated from a gentleman on the Kona side of Hawai’i. He posted three photos of a house being taken by lava. Again, the caption stated that this was happening right now, but the current flow has not done damage to any structure. Luckily within the week, both posts were removed, but the web had already been cast. Both were shared multiple times before deleting, and there were many requests to remove the post in the institute’s comments before they finally did so.

When Pahoa needs the support, faulty news is the worst kind of publicity. Currently, national news is barely paying attention, and some would agree, why? With wildfires burning out of control in California and NFL players allegedly abusing their children, how trivial a ribbon of lava threatening a small town in the middle of the Pacific is. I can tell you that there are tens of thousands of reasons in Puna hoping that the right word is spread. We all have to come to grips with the legendary woman who has come from the mountain to play with the hearts of many and maybe reclaim her playground or make more new land. It would be nice for the story of Pahoa and the numerous neighborhoods of Puna to be told in its correct sequence rather than lost among the other street signs blanketed in black lava.

Here are some tips to navigating truth from the flood of lava pictures and posts:
1. If you are interested in this current lava flow or for more eruption history, check out the USGS’s official website Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov. This flow is called the June 27th flow because it started on June 27.
2. Staying up to date will be your first guide for identifying past versus present lava flow pictures. In the two picture posts stated above, I knew immediately both of them were not of this current flow. The wall of lava picture was comprised of the rocky and crumbly lava called a’a rather than the ropy, syrupy pahoehoe lava that makes up the flow now. Also, for anyone paying attention to fashion, the clothing on the man was clearly not of this decade. In the case of the burning house pictures? The current flow has not taken any homes.
3. When in doubt, fact check. When it comes to you via someone else, click on the original post for more information. People commenting had already correctly identified the wall of lava post and called for deletion. For a twist on fact checking, when a friend of mine saw the burning house post, he recognized whose house it was because he grew up here.
4. Just because you saw it on the national news, doesn’t mean they have it right. One newscaster told his viewers of the lava flow in the Honolulu District. There is no such district on Hawai’i Island, and the city of Honolulu is on the island of O’ahu. Up until recently, even our own statewide news didn’t have it all quite right. Again, fact check.
5. For emotional stability, enjoy the photos, post a positive vibe and keep it light. A friend who used to live here posted a photo of a lava flow that happened when she lived here, and it started a duel between two people that didn’t really have anything to do with the photo. During such a dramatic life event, emotions will get charged, and we should support each other rather than stir the pot. If you want to get a bit more heated, send the person a private message so a thread of helpfulness remains with the post.

Thank you and have a safe day.

Posted in june 27th flow, lava, life changing, natural disaster, Pahoa, personal processes, sensationalism, social media posts, tips, to stay or to go | Leave a comment

Pele: legend, history and an unpredictable future

Shrouded and bursting forth at the same time, the stories of Pele are many and the new land she brings is both amazing and devastating. Hawaii is the incredible place that it is because of the Goddess of Fire. Both the land and the culture are alive, bearing our existence through her myths and on the land she has borne. Now as new lava threatens the town of Pahoa, I must remind myself that I have chosen to live next to an active volcano. It is up to each individual to choose their next path as Pele is choosing hers.

The stories passed down from generation to generation are bound to contain a few different threads after hundreds of years. The longer I scoured the internet, the more versions of Pele’s arrival to Hawaii I found. Many contained similar parts. I weave the similar with my favorite versions and present this possibility.

Pele, the Goddess of Fire, born from a chief who dreamed of trouble and Hauma who personified Mother Earth, lived in Tahiti with her numerous brothers and sisters. Known to have a fiery temper, she constantly fought with her sister Na-Maka-o-Kahai’i the Goddess of the Sea. Finally leaving Tahiti with many of her brothers and sisters after Na-Maka-o-Kahai’i catches Pele with her husband, she found the place for Hawaii and started to make her home by digging with her Pa’oa or massive o’o bar or digging stick. Each time she struck, her sister, who had been following Pele’s voyage, flooded her fires and sent her backwards. Each time Pele broke ground and her sister threw waves upon her efforts, a Hawaiian island remains. There are signs of Pele’s and Na-Maka-o-Kahai’i’s great battles- Diamond Head on O’ahu and the bones of Pele near Kahikinui on Maui are two examples. Torn apart from their epic battle on Maui, Pele’s spirit rises and settles in the deep of Mauna Loa, the world’s tallest mountain from ocean floor to summit. Today, she makes her home in Halemaumau Crater and her fires have been burning off the southeastern coast of Hawaii for decades.

Throughout the last century, eruptions have sporadically interrupted life on the Big Island, but two have stood out. In 1960, the town of Kapoho was subjected to fault line drops, fissures and steam blasts sending saltwater and ash high into the sky and relentless lava flows. It took just over a month for the eruption to expend its energy, covering the town and surrounding areas.

In January of 1983, fissures opened and concentrated on one localized vent named Pu’u O’o. Within a year, 16 homes were destroyed but the flow slows until 1986. In July of 1986, the lava shifts to another vent to the east of Pu’u O’o and between the two vents, continue to keep the town of Kalapana and communities of Kalapana Gardens and Royal Gardens on edge. By December of 1986, lava crosses Highway 130 and the Chain of Craters Road and threads its way into the back of Kalapana. Lava continues to spew into the ocean, thickening the swath between Kalapana and Royal Gardens, and by 1989, half of Royal Gardens subdivision is gone. Seven months in 1990 forever changed the lives of all lower Puna residents- the town of Kalapana and the only protected black sand beach on the East side of the island were overtaken.

Pu’u O’o has continued to flow intermittently all of these years. Many times, the lava has slowed or retreated, ocean entries have been prolific, some even quite accessible, and now, flowing in a whole new direction, it again threatens homes. On June 27th of 2014, lava started flowing in an easterly manner rather than the southeasterly direction that brought it down to Kalapana. From a surface flow over the old flows into cracks in the East Rift Zone to a surface flow again, Pele comes closer to the town of Pahoa by 300 to 1000 feet per day. Geologists from the USGS track the lava via daily overflights due to the inaccessibility of Puna’s rainforest jungles. Using models of elevation and flow predictions, they plot possibilities of Pele’s path, but no one knows for sure. Teaming with Civil Defense, the two agencies are trying their best to keep the communities affected as up to date as possible. There is no evacuation proclamation issued, but with the lava less than two tenths of a mile from Kaohe Homestead boundaries and about three miles from Pahoa and Highway 130, some people are taking action now.

Publicly acknowledged as inevitable, lava will kiss and cross the highway in less than two weeks if current rate of flow continues. Highway 130 is the only road in and out of Puna since Chain of Craters Road was covered in 1986. Some cars, trucks and trailers are already being packed full and driven out of Puna. Local merchants had a meeting and, though no mandate to close was given, many are closing shop anyway due to the unpredictability of the lava’s path or the inevitable drop in sales and deliveries once access is limited. Alternate routes out of Puna are being worked on from both sides of both Railroad Avenue and Beach Road. It will be close as to which will happen first: the crossing of lava on Highway 130 or the opening of what will essentially be evacuation routes.

With so many people finding other homes or places to stay, some are preparing to stay. Hurricane Iselle, which hit the the beginning of August, provided a limited knowledge and strength concerning emergency preparedness. Puna came together and supported each other during the hurricane and subsequent blackout of power and communication. Certain adjustments are already being made- when one gas can and one five gallon container of water were gathered for the hurricane, many know more will be needed for the unpredictable lava inundation. Some people are pooling their family farms in order to expand their food supply. One boat company who was in business giving lava tours by water now has a petition going to open up a ferry line with their 49 person boat <www.change.org/p/county-of-hawaii-civil-defense-lavaocean-transport-pohoiki-to-hilo-boat-ferry>. As businesses close, employees will be able to go on unemployment. With routes out of Puna, whether by road or by sea, some are hoping to still retain employment in Hilo while their home remains in Puna. Others could still be in business because their trade is a necessary one, but they know the way in which they do business will change. They know their whole way of life will change whether Pele continues all the way to the ocean or she stops anywhere before that.

The realization that Pahoa could literally disappear has been slowly washing over me the last few days. I’m not talking about what’s left after Hurricane Iselle hit. There were hundreds of home that were destroyed but the majority of Puna is still there. There is still a town to rebuild. In the coming months, Pahoa could literally be gone. Hard black pillows and ripples of lava and the tops of street signs. Pillars of buildings won’t even last because they are wood and will burn when the lava takes enough of the footings. I’ve heard stories from people who were here before and after the Kalapana days. There is a certain sadness that has never been recovered from and time lost that can never be regained. Now I am about to experience that same emptiness with the town that has been my home for the last ten years. Though our house will not be caught on the “other side,” my husband’s family home will be. My father-in-law still lives in that home. I worked in a store for almost ten years that could very likely be taken out because it’s in one of the lowest spots in Pahoa. My daughter goes to school in Pahoa. Our post office box is there. My worries are nothing in comparison to the worries my friends whose houses will be cut off, but whether cut off or not, anyone who has spent any time in Pahoa will be forever impacted. There is a loyalty to the hardships of Puna that each individual will have to come to terms with. To endure and come together as Punatics or to leave the physical and emotional devastation that can be too much to bear. As Pele slowly creeps forward, we can prepare but how long and what do we prepare for? Each of us who chose to live on the edge of the East Rift Zone can’t play dumb to the possibility of volcanic activity. There’s a motto that seems both ironic and fitting to our situation: we’re all just going with the flow.

Posted in eruption history, june 27th flow, lava, life changing, pele legend, to stay or to go | 4 Comments

Business as usual as the lava creeps closer

September 11, 2014,

As I remember our fallen on this day of American history, the more pressing subject is the lava creeping ever closer to the town I’ve based my life out of for the last ten years. Pahoa, Hawaii, was hit by Hurricane Iselle just last month and today the active volcano of Kileaua is threatening to cross the main highway in less than two weeks. Quite a double whammy to say the least.

Today, the Civil Defense message stated that the lava is flowing on the surface about 300 yards a day and is two tenths of a mile away from the borders of Kaohe Homesteads. Homeowners in that area will be contacted door to door. Also be advised that construction has started on Railroad Avenue for an alternate route out of Puna. Those in the Hawaiian Beaches and Hawaiian Shores subdivisions will be affected by noise throughout the weekend and into next week.

I’m stunned as the enormity of the situation settles. The last time lava overtook a neighborhood was in the early 80s. This time it could cut off numerous neighborhoods. Who knows what this road is going to look like? I wonder if it will have to be regulated. How will supplies be brought in? What if the lava goes all the way to the ocean? Do I enroll my daughter in the school in Keaau? Move my post office box into Kurtistown? My whole life has revolved around Pahoa and now I suddenly have to cut it off. The weird thing is though, that it’s not suddenly.

The flow that is threatening Pahoa started on June 27th, thus the name June 27th flow. Madame Pele has taken her time, branched out, come back, hid in cracks and now is launching a multi-fingered delta of destruction in slow motion. The jungles of Puna are fraught with cracks in the East Rift Zone so the only visuals we have are from daily overflights from the USGS, Civil Defense and anyone else with video and money to buy a helicopter flight. The red glow at night and red hued smoke plume in the day literally loom on the horizon.

It’s hard to think of how my life is going to change but I also have to accept a little bit of the dummy card. When my husband asked me to come here, I knew about the lava. I heard them tell stories of Royal Gardens, the Queen’s Bath and Kaimu Beach being taken. Most of my time here, I’ve had the ability to walk out and see the lava going into the ocean if the idea so struck me. We built a house in Lava Zone 2. We can only let her do what she is going to do and deal with the consequences. Sure, plan for worst case scenario, I should probably get a few boxes readied, but we can’t stop the lava. We are living on the edge of the East Rift Zone, home to Pele. She was here before any of us and she is proving that she will be listened to. Personally, I don’t think she likes the idea of a roundabout to take care of the traffic problem in her town, but that’s another post…

Posted in june 27th flow, lava, life changing, natural disaster, Pahoa | 3 Comments