Lingering residents forced to evacuate as lava cracks spread
PAHOA, Hawaii (AP) — Edwin Montoya’s family carved their farm on the slopes of the Kilauea volcano out of “raw jungle,” transforming it into a fertile collection of gardens, animal pens and fruit trees.
Now the property is imperiled by the very land it stands upon. A couple of miles up the hill, lava has destroyed dozens of homes and his daughter’s farm is in an evacuation zone.
Despite the nearby danger, the 76-year-old Montoya planned to stay to care for animals on the farm and keep looters away.
Those plans were dashed Tuesday after two new fissures opened up, including one about a mile from the family home, and he was forced to evacuate.
“I’m in my truck right now on my way up the road,” he said. “The police came down here and made me.”
Because there’s no indication when the eruption might stop, or how far the lava might spread, the volcano has forced people living in and around the Leilana Estates subdivision to make tough decisions.
Some residents insist on staying to watch over their property. Others have abandoned their homes without knowing when they will be able to return, or if they will come back to find their houses turned to ash and buried under solid rock.
Andrew Nisbet evacuated last week and has no idea what has happened since.
“My home is right in the line of the major breakouts so maybe, maybe not,” he said Monday during a community meeting.
Authorities urged Scott Wiggers to evacuate, but he refused.
“I’m in the safest part in the subdivision. There’s no threat to my house whatsoever,” said Wiggers, a tour guide.
Wiggers said he wasn’t leaving his home on the outskirts of the evacuation zone because he worried that if he did, he wouldn’t be able to get back in. But he’s prepared in case the situation takes a turn.
“I am packed. My truck is loaded. I’m not a dumb-dumb. If I see a threat, I’m out of here,” he said.
Hawaii County officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for two neighborhoods — Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens — on Thursday when the lava first emerged. About 1,700 people live in Leilani and a few hundred live in Lanipuna.
But on Tuesday, county officials sent an emergency cellphone alert telling any stragglers in Lanipuna to leave immediately. Acting Mayor Wil Okabe said that’s because two new fissures were emitting dangerous gases.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige told evacuees he has called the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to tell officials that he believes the state will need help to deal with the volcano on the Big Island.
Authorities are allowing some evacuees to return briefly each day to gather medicine, pets and other necessities.
Montoya, who moved to Hawaii to be with his family about six years ago, said he saw most of the United States as a truck driver for 25 years on the mainland. He prefers life on Mystic Forest Farm, in a purple octagonal house his family built nearly 20 years ago.
The farm is at the end of a long, single-lane gravel road, with large volcanic rocks scattered about and large pools of water to drive through.
Montoya was tending to the farm’s animals — sheep, chickens, rabbits and several cats and dogs — and watching over the property to prevent looting before being forced to leave.
Officials warn that lava could flow downhill and burn areas that are not currently in danger, and toxic volcanic gas could kill people, especially the elderly and those with breathing problems.
There are 14 lava-producing fissures in Leilani Estates after two new ones formed Tuesday. But the flow of lava is not constant.
A total of 36 structures, including 26 confirmed homes, have been destroyed. Aerial surveys cannot make out whether some of the structures are homes or other types of buildings.
Associated Press video journalist Haven Daley in Pahoa and writer Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.