LEILANI ESTATES, Hawaii (CBS SF) — It’s a nightmare that Kelana Kealoha thought he had escaped when he fled the devastation of Santa Rosa for the lush greenery of Hawaii’s Big Island.
Then the earth began moving and lava and sulfur dioxide began to stream out of the Kilauea Volcano and once again his family found itself on the run from the fiery breath of Mother Nature.
A mound of lava was advancing on the Leilani Estates and it was time to flee.
“Everything was green, look at it now, it’s all dead, dying,” said Kealoha who was accompanied by his wife and two children.
When asked about the cruel twist of fate, a look of bewilderment crept across Kealoha’s face.
“I was gonna raise my daughters here but it doesn’t look like it was going to turn out to be the scenario we hoped,” he told CBS.
Kealoha was among the residents who were allowed to visit their homes to remove some of their belongings on Monday. The bed of his red pickup truck was filled to the brim with bags of tools, cherished family items and tools.
Across the island others grappled with uncertainty, not knowing whether their homes are intact or have been engulfed in lava. On Monday night, residents crammed into a community meeting, seeking answers.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige told CNN that it’s been tough for residents.
“There’s a sense that it’s Mother Nature,” he said. “The lava flow is unpredictable. It’s hard to determine which direction it will go. It starts and stops on a whim. That’s the uncertainty that residents are faced with.”
The Hawaii Civil Defense said 35 structures — including at least 26 homes — had been destroyed and a total of 12 fissures have formed, including two on Monday.
Although the volcano activity has subsided at all 12 fissures — it’s likely just a pause in activity and doesn’t necessarily make it significant, said Janet Babb, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist.
Geologists expect that the eruptions will continue, Ige said.
All 1,700 residents of Leilani Estates, as well as nearby Lanipuna Gardens, were ordered to evacuate. But that doesn’t mean they all have.
“Some people are not complying,” said Debra Weeks, director of disaster services at the American Red Cross in Hawaii County, regarding evacuation orders. “They’re putting themselves at risk. They’re putting first responders at risk…If you know anyone still out there, encourage them to come in — not only for their own safety, but for safety of the community.”
Meanwhile, some Leilani Estates residents were able to return home Monday to retrieve pets, medicine and vital documents. The home visits are expected to continue depending on conditions, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense. But no visits are permitted for residents of Lanipuna Gardens because of volcanic gases.
Larry and Geri Butler, a retired couple, learned that their home of 15 years burned down in Leilani Estates after seeing a video of it on social media.
“They lost everything with the lava and have to start over from scratch,” their son, Christian Butler told CNN. “I’m not sure that fact has really sunk in with them yet.”
“Oddly, knowing the house is gone is almost better than the anxiety of not knowing,” he told CNN. “They evacuated Thursday afternoon, so there was some time where they had no idea if anything was happening to their home.”
His parents are staying in temporary housing and looking for a place to rent on a longer basis. Butler said he’s trying to help them focus on the future.
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