Preparedness & Recovery

Federal Disaster Declaration Iffy, Hawaii Governor Says

by Dan Nakaso, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / May 8, 2018
In this May 7, 2018 photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, smoke rises from a fissure in Leilani Estates in Pahoa, Hawaii. Hawaii's erupting Kilauea volcano has destroyed homes and forced the evacuations of more than a thousand people. AP

(TNS) - The ongoing volcanic eruption does not yet appear to reach the financial threshold for a federal disaster declaration, but Gov. David Ige is exploring whether a disaster can be declared for presenting “an imminent danger to the community,” Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday night.

Because so many property owners may be compensated through private insurance, there does not yet appear to be the kind of damage to reach as-yet unspecified dollar amounts to get a federal declaration, Ige said.

However, cracks have now appeared in Highway 130, and lava is likely under the major state highway into Leilani Estates.

So, Ige said, “We’re working both ends. One-thirty’s the main artery, and there is an ‘imminent danger’ to the community.”

Federal help sought

Ige sought a federal disaster declaration after Kauai public roads and infrastructure sustained nearly $20 million in damage during April’s storms and floods that pounded Kauai.

Ige has since contacted the White House — again — about Hawaii island’s eruption damage.

But the financial threshold for a federal disaster declaration for the island has not been reached, apparently because so many property owners have insurance.

At the second community meeting at Pahoa High and Intermediate School’s cafeteria Monday night, following Thursday’s outbreak, Ige told the packed crowd to speak carefully to insurance agents in order to get compensated — especially if they have “fire” coverage.

“Don’t ask him about lava,” Ige said. “Ask if you have coverage for fire. (If so), we believe you should get some return for your insurance.”

‘It seemed to go on and on’

Ige said he was on the ground when Friday’s 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck the eastern side of Hawaii island.

“It seemed to go on and on and on forever,” Ige said.

“I called FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) right away to let them know that we anticipate having an event, that we will want support,” Ige said.

Ige said he also called “the White House to let them know … this new eruption would entail, and could entail, a danger to our community.”

As new fissures opened to the southwest Monday, nervous residents already worried about the ongoing eruption in South Puna were told that more people should be ready to abandon their homes.

“Our message is, before the (new) vents open up, be prepared for evacuation,” Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno told a packed gathering Monday night. “This could come at any time.”

The latest fissures broke out southwest of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuni Gardens subdivisions and well within the so-called East Rift Zone.

Which community is next?

The next community to be concerned has no name, and Mayor Harry Kim told the Star-Advertiser that county officials are still trying to determine how many structures, homes and people are in the rural area.

“They’re all spread out,” he said.

There is clearly no end in sight for the current eruption, said Steve Brantley, deputy scientist-in-charge of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The “main message is that more activity is expected,” Brantley told the crowd at Pahoa High and Intermediate. The next community meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

More residents with valid IDs are expected to be let into Leilani Estates again this morning to retrieve anything they want.

“When you guys are in there, you gotta be aware it’s still a dynamic situation,” Magno said. “We’re not done with this yet. … Stay alert. Listen to the officials that are in there. If things get dicey you need to get out.”

Brantley repeated the message all week that there is no immediate end to the eruption and that “more activity can be expected in the future.”

“We just don’t know where or when those new fissures will arrive,” he said.

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