We live on the flanks of the world’s two largest mountains, which also happen to be the world’s largest volcanoes. The Big Island is a new island only a million or so years old, and we have a total of 5 volcanoes. The youngest of the five volcanoes, Kilauea, on our island has been continuously erupting for the last 30 years.
Julie, Mina and I live in Hilo 30 miles north of all the action. Because so many people have been asking, yes we are safe. However, we have been getting lots of questions based on the recent lava eruptions. I wanted to write this bigger post up to share information and resources for people.
Generally, living next to Kilauea is quite peaceful. It’s possible to live in harmony and without fear around Kilauea. It’s still a major volcano. At times it gets much more active, and then it can change dramatically, but with forewarning (earthquake swarms, and increased gas releases).
Current Volcanic Activity in Hawaii
It’s been a busy week here on the Big Island. A Kilauea eruption has opened up lava fissures in Leilani Estates in the south part of our island.
Update 5/8/18: Today no flows are happening and over the last few days residents are being allow to go back to homes to get belongings.
Update 5/9/18: Two more fissures opened up and the main crater had a large explosion today. Pele is back and awake again.
Update Today: Yep will be different than yesterday, this will evolve each day in surprising ways.
A common question asked is why do people build so close to the volcano? One reason is for much of the time you can live peacefully in the Puna District on its eastern flanks. (Only a few people live on the western flanks in Pahala). Cost wise it’s an inexpensive place to live (relative to the rest of Hawaii) and a place where many free and independent people love to live. It truly calls to people with fire in their heart. It comes at this cost; you have to be aware every once in a while you will have to move and risk lava flows.
Also, the active volcano is a lot bigger than people realize. The location where the lava popped out is over 20 miles from the volcanoes crater. There is a long ridge over 40 miles long where lava can pop out and most of the time lava is flowing where no one lives.
Another consideration, you can walk around Kilauea’s flows. However, the flows cannot be stopped, until they decide to stop on their own.
This is a major event, thousands of people have been evacuated, and likely over time, it will impact thousands more. We have roughly 200,000 people who live on the Big Island, and roughly 20,000 live around the flanks of Pele in Puna.
Pele is the spirit/goddess that drives the island and the eruptions. As one person in Puna said, “Pele does what Pele will do”. To live here, you discover a great deal of awareness and deference towards Pele. This defines the character of the people who live here and allows a person to find peace while living on the flanks of Pele. Those who don’t, never last at all on this island. Pele is the heart of the island. Elsewhere in the modern world society dominates the earth, Here on Hawaii, Pele determines the larger beat and the people here live with grace towards Pele.
These lava fissures are the start of a series of further eruptions from Kilauea. Over the last week, 11 Lava fissures have opened up. Most staying open only for a day before the next one starts.
As Pele shifts so does the earth. Right now people living in Puna are experiencing an earthquake swarm. Most of the earthquakes are 4.0 and smaller. Up here in Hilo, we only feel the earthquakes when they get over 4.5. Since we are 35 miles away, they don’t shake us up that much. We did get a 6.9 quake a few days ago. It does get your attention, but the distance takes a bit of the bite out of it.
Man Made Problems
Hawaii has a very badly designed geothermal plant which uses a toxic, flammable liquid called Pentane. As an engineer, it baffles me why humans design things to fail in bad ways. It doesn’t have to be like this, and yet people repeat this problem over and over again as Fukushima and Chernobyl illustrate. This geothermal plant has had a problem releasing toxic emissions for a while now. Again, why design a geothermal plant which isn’t environmentally friendly. Human are strange!
The real problem now is this there are 60,000 gallons of pentane less than a mile from where these new volcanic fissures locations. Instead of moving the Pentane away, they merely moved it on the site to higher ground.
While this probably won’t unfold into a bigger disaster, hopefully, this will cause the state to consider tightening the rules around this plant or even better, explore less problematic geothermal solutions.
The state has stepped in and has made the power company start to remove the pentane from the area.
What is Next?
This eruption is similar to the 1955 eruptions. In 1955 we had three major flows, and three minors flows that happened over three months. We probably will see the lava shift around quite a bit over the next few months. There is also a possibility of another larger earthquake still as the lava shifts around. No one can predict what will happen correctly. Pele could stop tomorrow, or this can go on for six months. Pele will choose her own pace and beat in this process. Everyone on the island knows this will play out over time and remain flexible as it does.
The current flow is still a small flow, it can get quite a bit bigger, but it can also shift tomorrow. However, the flows will stay along the rift zone. The people who are impacted by the flows are those who live in the Puna District of the Big Island.
Is it Safe?
The area impacted is small and it is safe to come and be here in Hawaii.
Lava, Earthquakes and natural problems don’t represent the true challenge here on the Big Island. The challenge is helping each other. The Big Island is a family island, it isn’t rich nor are we near the mainland with easy access to resources. Our resources are simply us. Aloha spirit partially grows out of the need to work together and make things work in a remote location. Aloha spirit is important on the Big Island. This event brings people together, and we do our best to help each other.
This series of lava flows will play out over many months and we will re-balance literally as the process unfolds.
For those who want to help I personally recommend donating to the KARES, Aloha Animal Advocates animal welfare organization or Hawaii Humane Society, who are all actively going out on rescue missions to save pets and farm animals who have been displaced by the lava flows. I recommend donating to KARES or the Aloha Advocates since the animals get less support than the people and these two organization do their best to save and find homes for the lost animals of of island. Another great option is
monetary donations can be made via the Food Basket. Food Basket is coordinating food, water and supply relief for people down in Puna.
Right now the community is sharing information, and people are helping friends as they can. This has only just started, and it will take a few weeks to sort things out. This isn’t like a hurricane which unfolds in a day, and everything gets knocked down. It’s a slow storm of lava that will shift the island for months, and then ironically the island also grows and improves from experience.