In Hawaii, an End of Innocence

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Gregory Glover.

A 6.9 earthquake that struck Hawaii’s Big Island on May 4 was just the beginning of an ordeal that still continues for the people of Puna, a semirural district on the eastern slopes of the island’s Kilauea volcano.

The previous day, the ground split open in the verdant community of Leilani Estates and a series of fissures began spewing fountains of magma and emitting poisonous gases. Leilani’s 1,800 residents were evacuated. More than 700 homes and farms were lost in subsequent weeks as a lava river flowed to the Pacific Ocean and consumed more residential areas.

A volcanic cone has grown to almost 200 feet tall in the middle of the Leilani community as the vigorous eruption continues for the 11th week. Earthquakes triggered by volcanic explosions rock the summit of Kilauea daily, damaging roads and buildings in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and forcing its indefinite closure. The southeast coastline of the Big Island is forever altered as lava meets the ocean along a two-mile front.

Thousands of people remain displaced. Hundreds are still in evacuation shelters, others are staying with friends or relatives or have moved to neighboring Hawaiian islands or the mainland.

Another blow to Hawaiians came Wednesday, when a Puna charter school, three more homes in Leilani and a popular beach park were inundated.

Sara Simone Wagner’s Leilani home still stands, but she remains evacuated, staying with friends in Hilo, the Big Island’s largest city. She has touched the hearts of many traumatized Hawaiians with a poem she published on the neighborhood social network. The poem speaks to her love of the land, the sometimes terrifying power of nature and, as she puts it, “the end of our innocence.”  Truthdig is pleased to reprint it here.

Sweet Leilani

By Sara Simone Wagner

May, a month of promise and beauty
gentle showers
fruiting trees
budding flowers
calming seas

Rolling shakes wake Puna’s slumber
draining caldera
exploding methane
mounting hysteria
we’re never the same

Fissures appear stage left—and stage right
performance fire
once-verdant plains
landscapes mired
sulphuric stains

Subtle cracks, soon gaping chasms
shifting rift zones
explosive night
mounting cinder cones
nature’s might

Alexander palms against a red night sky
terrain shifting
burning Makamae
pahoehoe drifting
scorching Kahukai

Bolders fly through pressured cracks
tephra covered pain
breaks on Alapai
toxic poison rain
missing pets on Pomaikai

Cruel slow burn and acrid air
seizes homes and structures
collateral damage
civil defense lectures
interrupted lives to manage

Kilauea unrelents with ashy plumes
fingers of lava
hot unwanted embrace
like too-hot java
burns at the taste

Moku gashed open like a battle scar
lava hits sizzling ocean
new land will avow
painful emotions
deep as Halemaumau

Evening curfews with midnight looters
gas masks tightened
tears escalations
anxiety heightened
forced evacuations

Hissing bay with dangerous laze
lava articulates
homes burn slow
caldera again deflates
We mourn Kapoho

Power outages and scorching air
crimson glows at night
our reminder you see
of Pele’s might
in our sweet, sweet Leilani

(Makamae, Kahukai, Alapai, Pomaikai and Moku are the names of streets in Leilani Estates. Pahoehoe is a lava formation that looks like rope strands. Tephra is the name for rock fragments and particles ejected in an eruption. Halemaumau is the collapsing crater at the Kilauea summit. Laze is toxic haze formed when lava enters the ocean. Kapoho is another community that was lost to the current flow. Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of fire, respected as creator and destroyer of the island chain.)

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In Hawaii, Trauma Follows Shock and Loss

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Gregory Glover / Truthdig Staff.

One harrowing month into the eruption of Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, the community’s social fabric is being strained by a daily barrage of shock and loss.

On May 3, the ground split open in the Puna district community of Leilani Estates and lava began to explode from a line of two dozen fissures. The next day, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook the island and the first of 87 homes, at latest count, was incinerated by lava. Livelihoods have been lost as at least 4,000 acres of agricultural land have been inundated and the tourism industry takes a major hit.

The normally laid-back people of Puna are showing increasing signs of trauma:

● In lava-devastated Leilani Estates, a man faced a string of charges Wednesday after allegedly shooting at a neighbor.

● Another Leilani resident defied police instructions to stay out of the evacuation zone and, apparently intoxicated, crashed his pickup truck into a wall of lava that had hardened across a closed section of highway. He was arrested Thursday.

● A man registered at one of the island’s evacuation shelters was found dead in a wooded area near the shelter, an apparent suicide. Police said he was despondent after the breakup of a romantic relationship.

For disaster-weary Puna, there’s no end in sight. Several fissures are still spewing great volumes of lava and one—known as Fissure 8—is fueling a rapid new flow to the ocean.

On Thursday, more areas of hard-hit Leilani Estates faced mandatory evacuation. Authorities worried that a swollen lava channel could breach its banks.

On Friday, the residents of two more communities, Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland, were given hours to get out or be isolated by a fast-moving lava flow front that has grown to 300 yards wide. The flow crossed the area’s last road to safety Saturday morning.

In the past week, lava claimed more of the Puna Geothermal Venture plant, which supplied 20 percent of the island’s energy until it was abandoned as the flow approached—exacerbating the island’s problems. The plant has faced opposition since its inception in 1989: Neighboring residents have long feared that a potential lava inundation could cause an uncontrolled release of dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas, although emergency management officials consider that scenario unlikely.

As if the eruption wasn’t destructive and scary enough, Hawaii island is dealing with other torments with intriguing names: vog, laze and Pele’s hair.

Vog is sulfur dioxide-laced volcanic fog. (Sunday’s vog level in Puna and the Big Island’s southwest is predicted to be hazardous.) Laze is lava haze, which forms when lava enters the ocean and is a poisonous brew of hydrogen chloride and tiny slivers of glass. Pele’s hair, named for the volcano goddess Pele, is the eruptive fallout of fine strands of volcanic glass.

All these put downwind communities at risk, as does volcanic ash, which has been regularly exploding from the crumbling Halemaumau crater at the Kilauea summit. Borne on prevailing trade winds, the ash is coating the towns of Volcano, Pahala and Kau district neighborhoods. The latest in a swarm of earthquakes associated with the summit explosions registered 5.4 on the Richter scale Friday.

More than 400 residents are in emergency shelters; some have been displaced for as long as a month. A number of organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and United Way, are accepting donations.

The shelters have been busy offering mental health counseling to those in need. Emergency personnel are stretched to the breaking point dealing with the ever-changing conditions.

“It’s almost like your life is on hold,” said Leilani Estates evacuee John Davidson. “It’s not like it’s a hurricane where you think, ‘OK, in three days it’ll be here and go.’ … This is almost like a slow-motion train wreck.”

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Hawaii’s Ordeal Ramps Up: Lava Torrents, Flying Rocks, Acidic Air

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by CALEB JONES and JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER / The Associated Press.

PAHOA, Hawaii—A volcano that is oozing, spewing and exploding on Hawaii’s Big Island has gotten more hazardous in recent days, with rivers of molten rock flowing into the ocean and flying lava causing the first major injury.

Kilauea volcano began erupting more than two weeks ago and has burned dozens of homes, forced people to flee and shot up plumes of steam from its summit that led officials to distribute face masks to protect against ash particles.

Lava flows have grown more vigorous in past days, spattering molten rock that hit a man in the leg.

He was outside his home Saturday in the remote, rural region affected by the volcano when the lava “hit him on the shin, and shattered everything from there down on his leg,” Janet Snyder, Hawaii County mayor’s spokeswoman, told the Hawaii News Now TV station.

Lava that’s flying through the air from cracks in the Earth can weigh as much as a refrigerator and even small pieces can be lethal, officials said.

The injury came the same day lava streamed across a highway and flowed into the ocean. The phenomenon sends hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles into the air and can lead to lung damage and eye and skin irritation, another danger for residents as the plume can shift with the wind, the Hawaii County Civil Defense agency said.

The highway has shut down in some spots, and residents in the area have been evacuated.

With the problems compounding, scientists can’t say whether lava flows from nearly two dozen fissures will keep advancing or stop.

“We have no way of knowing whether this is really the beginning or toward the end of this eruption,” said Tom Shea, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii. “We’re kind of all right now in this world of uncertainty.”

The area affected by lava and ash is small compared with the Big Island, which is about 4,000 square miles (10,360 square kilometers). The volcano has spared most of the island and the rest of the Hawaiian chain.

Officials have reminded tourists that flights, including on the Big Island, have not been affected. Even on the Big Island, most tourist activities are available and businesses are open.

Evacuation orders for two neighborhoods with nearly 2,000 people were given after the first fissure opened on May 3. Officials have been warning neighboring communities to be prepared to evacuate.

Lava flows have sped up as fresher magma mixes with decades-old magma, creating hotter and more fluid flows, scientists said. Two fissures had merged by Saturday, creating a wide flow moving at up to 300 yards (274 meters) per hour.

Edwin Montoya, who lives with his daughter on her farm near where lava crossed a roadway and trapped a handful of people Friday, said the fissure opened and grew quickly.

“It was just a little crack in the ground, with a little lava coming out,” he said. “Now it’s a big crater that opened up where the small little crack in the ground was.”


Kelleher reported from Honolulu. Associated Press journalists Jae Hong and Marco Garcia in Pahoa contributed to this report.

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Hawaii Volcano Sends More Lava, Sulfur Gas Into Communities

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by CALEB JONES and MARCO GARCIA / The Associated Press.

PAHOA, Hawaii — The Kilauea volcano sent more lava into Hawaii communities Friday, a day after forcing more than 1,500 people to flee from their mountainside homes, and authorities detected high levels of sulfur gas that could threaten the elderly and people with breathing problems.

The eruption that began with lava flying into the sky from a crack in a road continued with reports of molten rock spurting from several volcanic vents. Neighborhoods downhill from the vents were at risk of being covered up. At least two homes were destroyed, officials said.

Julie Woolsey lives on a street where a vent opened up and channeled lava to within 1,000 yards (914 meters) of her house. When it appeared, she freed her chickens, loaded her dogs into her truck and evacuated with her daughter and grandson.

“We knew we were building on an active volcano,” she said, recalling how she purchased the lot on the Big Island for $35,000 more than a decade ago after living on Maui became too expensive. But she thought the danger from lava was a remote possibility.

“You can’t really predict what Pele is going to do,” she said, referring to the Hawaiian volcano goddess. “It’s hard to keep up. We’re hoping our house doesn’t burn down.”

The community of Leilani Estates near the town of Pahoa appeared to be in the greatest danger. Authorities also ordered an evacuation of Lanipuna Gardens, a smaller, more rural subdivision directly to the east. But scientists said new vents could form, and it was impossible to know where.

Civil defense officials cautioned the public about high levels of sulfur dioxide near the volcano and urged vulnerable people to leave immediately. Exposure to the gas can cause irritation or burns, sore throats, runny noses, burning eyes and coughing.

Maija Stenback began to get nervous when she noticed cracks in the streets near her home. On Thursday, she shot video of the lava as it bubbled and splattered across a street about six blocks from her house.

“You can feel it all the way into the core of your being,” she said. “It’s just that roaring and unbelievable power of the lava bubbling up and spitting up into the air.”

Stenback, her daughter and grandchildren packed as much as they could into their car. The two kids were each allowed to select three toys to take before the family left for a friend’s home about a 30-minute drive away.

“I have lived through a lot of lava flows here, but never this close before,” Stenback said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. At least 100 people were staying in shelters Friday, with many more evacuees believed to be with relatives and friends.

The Hawaii governor activated the National Guard to help with evacuations and provide security for properties that were abandoned when residents fled to safety.

Kilauea has erupted periodically for decades, and scientists said they have no way of predicting how long the eruption will continue.

A key factor will be whether a magma reservoir at the summit starts to drain in response to the eruption, which has not happened yet, said Asta Miklius, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

“There is quite a bit of magma in the system. . It won’t be just an hours-long eruption probably, but how long it will last will depend on whether the summit magma reservoir gets involved. And so we are watching that very, very closely,” Miklius said.

After a week of earthquakes, authorities had warned residents to be prepared to evacuate because an eruption would give little warning.

Henry Calio said the first sign that something might be wrong happened when cracks emerged in the driveway of his home in Leilani Estates. His wife, Stella, then received a call from an official who told them to get out immediately. They feared they might lose the house.

“This is our retirement dream,” Henry Calio said.

Kilauea’s Puu Oo crater floor began to collapse Monday, triggering the earthquakes and pushing the lava into new underground chambers. The collapse caused magma to push more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) downslope toward the populated southeast coastline of the island.

The magma later crossed under Highway 130, which leads to a popular volcano access point. Authorities closed the area to visitors and ordered private tour companies to stop taking people into the region.

Over the decades, most of Kilauea’s activity has been nonexplosive, but a 1924 eruption spewed ash and 10-ton (9-metric ton) rocks into the sky and killed one person.

A 1983 eruption resulted in lava fountains soaring over 1,500 feet (457 meters) into the sky. Since then, the lava flow has buried dozens of square miles of land and destroyed many homes.


Jones reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writers Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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Hawaii Poised to Ban Sale of Sunscreens That Damage Coral

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by SOPHIA YAN / The Associated Press.

HONOLULU—Many sunscreen makers could soon be forced to change their formulas or be banned from selling the lotions in Hawaii.

State lawmakers passed a measure this week that would ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate by 2021 in an effort to protect coral reefs. Scientists have found the two substances can be toxic to coral, which are a vital part of the ocean ecosystem and a popular draw for tourists.

Consumers would only be allowed to buy sunscreen with the chemicals if prescribed by a health care provider, though the measure itself doesn’t ban online purchases or tourists from bringing their own to Hawaii.

It would become the first state to enact a ban on the chemicals if Democratic Gov. David Ige signs the bill; he has not indicated whether he will.

Similar legislation failed last year, after it pitted environmental scientists against businesses and trade groups that benefit from the $2 billion market for sun care products in the U.S.

This is “a first step to help our reef and protect it from deterioration,” said Hawaii state senator Donna Mercado Kim, a fellow Democrat who introduced the measure. Although other factors contribute to reef degradation, “hopefully, other jurisdictions will look at this legislation and follow suit.”

“This is the first real chance that local reefs have to recover,” said Craig Downs, a scientist whose 2015 peer-reviewed study found oxybenzone was a threat to coral reefs. “Lots of things kill coral reefs, but we know oxybenzone prevents them from coming back.” It also affects sea urchins and kills algae, a source of food for sea turtles, he said.

He found as much as 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion ends up in coral reefs annually.

Opponents are skeptical of the science.

“What we’re really concerned with is that there aren’t very many independent studies out there that have gone for peer review,” said Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii. She said the ban might discourage people from buying sunscreen products from local brick-and-mortar stores. The American Chemistry Council also opposed the bill, citing concerns over the dangers of sun exposure.

“It’s a feel good measure,” said Democrat Sharon Har, one of four lawmakers who voted against the bill. “Yes, we must protect the environment — it is our number one resource — but at the end of the day, studies have pointed to global warming, human contact, coastal development” as other significant threats to coral.

Many manufacturers already sell “reef-friendly” sunscreens, and companies can deplete current inventory ahead of the ban in 2021, Downs said.

Edgewell Personal Care, which makes Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen lotions, said it makes products free of the two chemicals. The company “will continue to ensure we comply with all relevant regulations concerning oxybenzone and octinoxate.”

“We have so many problems with coral bleaching, and there is already so much contamination,” said Dr. Yuanan Lu, a professor and director of the environmental health laboratory at the University of Hawaii, who applauded the passage. “We have so many people who come to Hawaii, and some of the sunscreen ingredients can be toxic, harmful to marine systems.”

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