In Hawaii, Trauma Follows Shock and Loss

[tweet_dis2]In Hawaii, Trauma Follows Shock and Loss[/tweet_dis2]

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.”

Truthdig is running a reader-funded project to document the Poor People’s Campaign. Please help us by making a donation.

This article was originally posted onGregory Glover / Truthdig Staff

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