What it′s like living near Hawaii′s Kilauea volcano | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 04.06.2018
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What it's like living near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano

What would a volcano have to do for you to pack up and leave the home you'd raised your family in? A woman writes DW from Hawaii and tells her story.

Due to the sacred nature of volcanoes in Hawaiian culture, the author requested to remain anonymous. The text has been edited for formatting.

We have lived here on Big Island for about 37 years. Thirty in this exact house. This eruption has been a traumatic experience.

We are confronted daily with the fear of, "Is today the day it blows up in our backyard?" We can see the glow at night and hear the lava splashing continuously, day and night. Our house has been shaking and vibrating constantly to the point we have gotten used to it.

When we first moved here, the volcano was something you didn't really think about, except as a tourist place to visit. Then it erupted and took out the Royal Gardens neighborhood and Kalapana [a town]. And even then it was sad to see landmarks go the way of new land being created. We still felt safe and lived our lives.

USA Vulkanausbruch auf Hawaii (picture-alliance/ZUMA Wire/USGS)

In some cases Hawaiians are offered new land if theirs is overtaken - but little else

We would head out to the ocean over the new lava fields and watch the lava flowing into the ocean. It was amazing, but not scary. Then, in 2014, it came down again towards the town of Pahoa and threatened to close off the only road out of lower Puna. Thankfully, after months of watching and planning what to do if and when we were cut off, it finally stopped advancing. Life returned to normal. We felt safe, and the town started to grow.

Now, we woke up to our bed shaking and the windows rattling to learn that the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent had collapsed and lava had drained out somewhere. It moved quickly after that, from cracks in the ground in Leilani to fissures exploding lava into neighborhoods where we worked.

Hawaii Kilauea Vulkanausbruch (Reuters/T. Sylvester)

The glow of lava fountains illuminates the woman's home at night

We have lost many [real estate] customers due to their homes and yards being covered by lava, or roads being closed. It's very stressful financially, and emotionally draining. It's like you're in a time loop where you're on hold, waiting for it to be over so you can move on with life. We hardly go farther than Keaau [a 30-minute drive] because you don't know if you will be able to return. You don't sleep at night because you don't know if the wind will change directions and you'll die in your sleep from poison gas. Our tropical flower farm is dying from the gasses that have come this way, as well as the acid rain that falls daily (mostly at night, but also during the day).

In regard to our health, watching the plants dying makes you worry about the long-term effects the eruption is having on our bodies. Some days it feels like you are just tired, kinda sluggish, and your head hurts. Then, on other days, your eyes burn, your throat hurts, and it feels like someone is sitting on your chest when you try to breath. We stay indoors a lot more often now, with the fans going and the windows shut. Not to mention the physical effects of being under high stress for so long. It feels like a war zone with the explosions and roaring of the vents (they sound like jet fighter planes flying too close to the tower). We never wanted to leave.

This is where we grew up and raised our children. This is where we had family gatherings and parties with all our friends. Now it's a place that no one wants to come, because it's just too scary.

Hawaii Kilauea Vulkanausbruch (Reuters/NSF/AURA/Gemini Observatory)

Legend has it that the Kilauea volcano is inhabited by Pele, a temperamental Hawaiian goddess

While we don't want to move, it's looking like we may not have a choice. Preliminary reports have it that the lava coming out in Leilani estates is being fed from the main tube coming up under Kilauea summit, and that it has created a new summit inside Lani Puna Gardens. I don't think we can handle living this close to a constant volcano eruption. If the fumes don't get us, the stress will.

At this time we are trying to get everything ready to leave and find the financial means to move. We have lost so many customers that saving money is not feasible. It's looking as though we may have no choice but to sell everything we own so we can move to the mainland. Moving to a new location on the island is not an option - the cost of living is so high that we cannot afford to start over here again. As much as that makes us sad, our health is more important.

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