2018 Kilauea Eruption inside Leilani Estates

2018 Kilauea Eruption inside Leilani Estates

As the lava begins to harden, it is time to write about my experiences covering the May 2018 Kilauea eruption inside the Leilani Estates subdivision. I was one of a handful of reporters and photographers that arrived within hours of the eruption and covered the historic event as best we could.  The next few blog posts will be about my experiences traveling into the region and documenting the tragic yet beautiful destruction.

May 3rd, 2018

“Where the hell is my raincoat?!” I screamed out loud to the irritated amusement of my wife who watched me run around in a fluster inside our small, Kakaako condo.  I was frantically packing cameras and clothes as I needed to catch the last flights to the Big Island.  New reports were trickling in that lava was pouring out of the ground in a rural subdivision on the Big Island.  Earthquake activity in the last several months signaled than an volcanic eruption was imminent.  That afternoon, a 5.0 quake ripped the ground open inside the Leilani Estates neighborhood  and was spitting out lava that threatening homes and lives.

The Associated Press called me asking how long it would take for me to get there.

“Give me an hour.”

My wife looked a bit dismayed that I was rushing off but she knew I loved my profession.  As I stuffed the found raincoat into my bag, she grabbed me before I left saying saying “don’t do anything stupid.”  I smirked at her, kissed her, scratched the dog’s ears and off I went.

As it was so last minute, I wasn’t able to get a flight to Hilo but had to fly to Kona and drive about three hours over Mauna Kea to Hilo then down south to Puna.  Not the best of solutions but it would have to do.

The three hour drive seemed endless as my mind raced at the notion that lava was covering a region I was familiar.  Puna cast a spell on me the first time I went into that region nearly a decade ago.  The isolated, black sand beaches, tall swaying palm trees, and endless beauty captivated me to no end.  And the land felt alive as one of the world’s most active volcanoes is just around the corner.

But why on earth would anyone want to live near an active volcano that has been erupting for the last 30 years?  Mostly, its affordability.  Over the years, lava land can be purchase dirt cheap and it offers an affordable life in paradise.  In a state where the average home price can soar beyond $800k, lava flow land is a bargain.  “You can’t do that anywhere on Maui or Oahu,” one Kalapana resident said to me.  For a few thousand dollars, he purchased several acres  atop the now cooled 1990 Kalapana lava field and built his homes several years ago.  “I got million dollar ocean views, no neighbors, and I paid next to nothing.”

Shady developers and bad, rather complicit, government oversight allowed active lava fields to be subdivided and sold as real estate speculation in the 1960s.  With no proper infrastructure, many of the lots attracted speculators who never lived on the land along with “off-the-grid” types wishing to live away from normal society.  Hippies, outcasts, and those wanting an alternative lifestyle became the majority of the residents over the years in the subdivisions Kalapana, Royal Gardens, and Leilani Estates just to mention a few. They lived off solar panels and rain catchment systems and many grew fields of “medicinal” plants for consumption and distribution.

The first two neighborhoods already succumbed  to Pele’s existential threat and, while the current eruption in Leilani Estates is no surprise to many, they thought it would never happen to them.

Once I got into Pahoa after midnight on May 4th, the quiet hippie town of Pahoa was a buzz with activity.  Trucks and cars fleeing Leilani Estates stuffed with all sorts of household items drove thru Pahoa while many people walked down the darkened streets holding bags of whatever they could carry.

I drove towards the subdivision looking for entry points into the affected areas but all roads were blocked by police. I then drove around the backside towards Pohoiki and found no luck there either.

I went back to the Red Cross shelter in Pahoa and found the first of many lava refugees.  They talked about how the earth rattled and cracked open with gases gushing out of the earth followed by sparks of lava rocks.  One couple from Leilaini Estates, along with their two menacing pit bulls and personal belongings in the back of their pick up, showed me social media clips of the fissures just a few blocks from their home.  The couple was in awe of mother nature but also in disbelief as they did not know if they would ever go home.

Volcano evacuee Stella Calio, a resident of Leilani Estates, watches social media videos of the volcanic eruption that took place just blocks from her home, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. Calio, her husband, and two dogs are staying at a shelter a few miles from the lava eruption. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
Volcano evacuee Stella Calio, a resident of Leilani Estates, watches social media videos of the volcanic eruption that took place just blocks from her home, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. Calio, her husband, and two dogs are staying at a shelter a few miles from the lava eruption. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

That night, I slept in the car about 3am in the and was awoken a few minutes later by civil defense sirens wailing about the high levels of sulfur dioxide in the air near the eruption zone.  The earthquake not only tore open fissures that bled lava but also cracks that spewed the deadly volcanic gases.

About dawn, I headed back down the Leilani Estates only to find the National Guard along with the police blocking the entrance to the community.

Residents gathered around hoping to get back to their homes.  At the time, many did not know where the fissures were and all seemed normal from the Hwy 130 entrance.  Some vented frustrations at the manned roadblocks while others worried about their properties along with their pets and livestock left behind.  Most evacuated with little or no preparation.  One woman screamed obscenities at the police and marched in unopposed into the neighborhood.

National guardsmen across from the entrance to Leilani Estates, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. A mandatory evacuation for the area as declared by the state. Due to unsafe conditions in the area from the recent lava eruption, residents who evacuated could not return to their homes Friday. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
National guardsmen across from the entrance to Leilani Estates, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. A mandatory evacuation for the area as declared by the state. Due to unsafe conditions in the area from the recent lava eruption, residents who evacuated could not return to their homes Friday. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Throughout the day, I tried various methods to get into the affected area with little luck.  I went back to the shelter to visit others who were steadily arriving and hear the same stories of earthquakes, rumors of lava, and homes being burned down.  Everyone seemed confused, upset, and angry as no one seemed to have any answers.  One woman cried of frustration when I spoke with her.  She said her life was turned upside down by this eruption and said, “I knew it would happen some day.”

After being forced out of his home at the Leilani Estates due to a mandatory evacuation, Tim Sullivan, 61, sits in his pickup truck near a local shelter, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. The eruption took place about a block from Sullivan's home. He and his wife spent the night at a nearby shelter and does not know when they will be able to return. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
After being forced out of his home at the Leilani Estates due to a mandatory evacuation, Tim Sullivan, 61, sits in his pickup truck near a local shelter, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. The eruption took place about a block from Sullivan’s home. He and his wife spent the night at a nearby shelter and does not know when they will be able to return. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

As my second day continued, I drove what seemed to be miles as I circled the area hoping to see something or gain access one way or another into the sealed off eruption zone.

Kilauea volcano erupts, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Kalapana, HI. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
Kilauea volcano erupts, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Kalapana, HI. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

On the backside towards Kalapana on Hwy 137,  I saw ash rising from Halemaumau crater inside Volcanoes National Park.  The volcano was erupting again.

As my nearly 24-hour day grew to an end, I sat frustrated as I knew the lava  was there…I just needed to get inside.

16,000 likes via the New York Times

A surfer falls of the lip of a huge wave at Peahi, Maui. 16,000+ Likes on the New York Times Instagram page!
A surfer falls of the lip of a huge wave at Peahi, Maui. 16,000+ Likes on the New York Times Instagram page!

Its been a great week for work this week as I’ve had two big travel stories on the Big Island and Maui run in the New York Times and the Associated Press released my writing and pictures on a trip to Kalaupapa on Molokai.

But if anyone takes likes as a measure of fulfillment, the shot of the surfer flying off his board at Jaws on Maui got over 16,000 likes on the @nytimestravel instagram page.  Impressive!

But more impressive for myself is my new career of writing.  In college I wanted to be a writer and took a few classes  but didn’t take myself seriously to follow through with any of it.  I doodled in diaries and mailed long love letters during my travels in Latin America and Asia.  But its only been in the last few years that I’ve gotten acknowledged as a writer and published.  Taking pictures has become second nature for me but writing is still the great frontier.

The Molokai story is linked here.

Anyone recognize this hiker?

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 10.51.37 AM

Here are the New York Times tears from the last few weeks.

nyt layouts

The Big Island story is here and Maui is here.

Painfully Slow

Painfully Slow

“When I first arrived, I saw black smoke billowing not so far in the distance – the lava had struck a pile of car tires. When it burns, it’s quite amazing. It’s mesmerizing,” I was quoted saying during an interview with Reuters News Service on their photo blog.  Reuters sent me to cover the impeding doom facing Pahoa Village on the Big Island last week as lava from Kilauea Volcano threatens to split the rural town in two.  A recent lava flow has made its way down the volcano’s slope directly towards the middle of town.  Many residents are able to do nothing as lava stops for no one.

The blog continues with my story:   “Lava is unpredictable. It could go left or right, up or down. It will move 5 meters in an hour, then not move at all. And it usually moves slowly, like squeezing toothpaste down a hill – but it will get there eventually. Unlike a tsunami or an earthquake or even a hurricane, it’s a painfully slow death.”

And clearly residents are anxiously waiting for Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of the volcano, to cast her judgement on the land of Puna.

For hundreds of thousands of years, lava has erupted on the Big Island helping make the island the biggest of the Hawaiian chain.  The volcanoes have not been silence since they formed the Big Island.  Since 1983, lava has flowed from Kilauea and the USGS has reported Kilauea is responsible for creating more than 500 acres of new land.  “The Lava flows had also destroyed 214 structures, and resurfaced 14.3 km (8.9 mi) of highway, burying them with as much as 35 m (115 ft) of lava.”

Luckily for the town, the lava has currently stalled but the threat still remains and nothing can predict whether the lava will stop or continue.  But if Kilauea’s past is a sign of the future, the lava will not cease and will enviably destroy much of the town of Pahoa along with everything else in the flow’s path.

Lava spouts from a hot spot as the lava flow from Mt. Kilauea inches closer to the village of Pahoa, Hawaii

While on assignment, Reuters was granted permission to fly over the flow so we hired a helicopter to get a better view of the flow’s destruction. Luka, who works for Hawaii Volcanoes Helicopter Tours, piloted the tiny little chopper and ferried me over the lava’s path. Very little compares to lifting off in a helicopter, especially one with no doors.  Luka’s chopper was the size of a Prius and as we left the ground, it seemed we stood still and everything fell below us.

The lava flow path from Mt. Kilauea inches closer to the village of Pahoa, Hawaii

Luka took me over the town and up the trail to the Pu’u O’o vent where the lava is oozing slowly down the mountain.  The aerial photos were noticed by Reuters’s London office and Karolina Tagaris called me and had a quick chat with me about my experiences with this natural disaster. You can see the blog here as well as a write up by the BBC’s News in Pictures site as well.  The interview became roughly my story without much of her input.

I continued, “I asked the pilot to follow the path of the lava back to the crater and it was quite amazing to watch the lava flow. There’s a lot of steam and smoke and you can see some lava being created inside the crater, which looks like a bubbling cauldron. It’s so primitive it’s almost as if the world is being created – I found myself looking for dinosaurs!”

There’s nothing that really compares to seeing lava on the Big Island. I’ve tried my best to document what’s going on with the volcano over the years I’ve lived in Hawaii. I’m not a lava photographer as I don’t care to hike out miles in the middle of the night to see nature at it’s best but there are times like this when I have access to fly over it…nothing can really match it.

Smoke rises from the lava flow from Mt. Kilauea as it inches closer to the village of Pahoa, Hawaii

 

Los Angeles Times goes organic.

Los Angeles Times goes organic.

Just a quick posting of tearsheets from a travel piece I shot for the LA Times and the new travel trend of Agrotourism in Hawaii.  Well traveled tourists are now recognizing the value of eating off the resort and eating and shopping locally.  Fresh fruits, vegetables, and produce can be pretty good albeit rather pricey at times.  But on an island, everything can be pricey.

So some have asked how much certain things cost here so here is a quick rundown:

gallon of milk:  around $6 for mainland, $8 to $9 for locally produced.

gallon of gas:  HNL:  $4.45, outer island $4.70+

lb of bananas:  local apple bananas are about $1.30, imported are around $1.09

pineapple:  Costco price is $3.29 or so, tourist price at fruit stand, $6

lb of ground beef:  $3-4

locally grown tomatoes:  $5/lb, imported are about $2.99/lb

But some of these costs didn’t surprise me from New York but they are shocking when you go to a place like San Antonio where you pay like $1 for 10 limes/lemons where at Safeway locally you get a lemon for like $1.29 EACH.

But to get back to the shopping locally at local farmer’s markets, things are obviously fresher and more unique and you will get a taste of the small farm as opposed to the corporations growing produce on the west coast.  You can’t buy mangosteens or rambutans at Safeway but you’ll pay for it at the farmer’s markets but the tastes and joy of eating something exotic really do make you feel like you are in the middle of the Pacific.

Lots of the exotic fruits and produce grown here are not native but they do add flavor to the local cuisine.  Its great tourists are now recognizing the value of having a sustainable trip where things are sourced locally rather than imported at high costs.  This creates local jobs, demonstrates we shouldn’t convert every inch of ag land into condos and resorts, and sustains a better way of life for everyone one on the Islands.  The drawbacks…well the major one is the costs of doing business, and the costs of labor.  Hawaii has no access to cheap immigrant labor to work in the fields, labor laws are strict and surely add to the costs of doing business, and Hawaii is clearly not business friendly.  Costs and taxes are high enough to drive small and start ups off the Islands.  Historically, the plantations took advantage of the labor here which drove a rise in unionism and now housekeepers at the big hotels are paid as much as the night managers.  How the hotels survive is by passing that cost onto you.

Regardless of my ranting, locally grown whatevahs is the trend across the country.  I’m glad we’re pushing more of this into our lifestyle even if it does costs a little more.  A locally grown avocado is pretty tasty.  Locally grown greens are crisper and its always neat to know I got an egg from a local chicken and not off a boat.

Oh, the above picture of the farm girl, Norah Hoover.  Ah, what a beauty.  She was working on the Kauai farm that produces stuff for Common Grounds in Kilauea.  As the staff was walking me around showing me parts of the farm and gardens which produce a good portion of the food for their restaurant, Norah walks over, barefoot no less, to plant kale into the field.  I immediately was drawn to her as her off the shoulder shirt, overalls, and bed head red hair fit my image of what organic farming and life is like on Kauai.  Sure enough, the LA Times and others have used that picture to be the lead for the story.  She made a great picture.

Walk all over me!

Walk all over me!

A few weeks ago, an email appeared in my inbox with the opening lines…

“Hello Marco,

I came across your website whilst I was looking for images of the sea.”

Ah…how much more romantic could that be?  …looking for images of the sea. I started to hum an old Cure song and was whist away to years gone by where the sand and sea were more than a sunburn.  Not that killing arabs would be much fun but it was the lyrics that took me back to my youth.  All from a woman asking me if I had images of the sea.

Being my usual suspicious self, I came close to ignoring the email as I hate doing free stock research but her request was too specific.  They were looking for shots of the ocean so they could use as a composite for a larger project they were working on.

Michelle from Printed Space Ltd, a company based in England, further explained they wanted blue water ocean shots as they were designing an ocean- theme print to be placed on a floor of a private home somewhere in Great Brittan.  How intriguing.  To hear the pitter-patter of a young lad on my silent image of the ocean.  To see a dirty soccer jersey (ooops football kit) in one corner and a PS3 in the other, oh the dream.

Michelle and her design team had most of the other elements which make up the ocean but didn’t have, I would say, the sandwich to hold all the stuff inside.  The comp they sent seems to show my ocean shot holding the sharks, reef, and snorkelers all together.  Its a very impressive design and I’m excited to have contributed my work to the design.  Now only to put my feet down on the actual floor plan…now that’s the challenge.

To be honest, I’d never would have thought to have a floor plan as such.  I could only imagine stumbling home one evening only to find myself drowning in something other than my own sorrow.  I clearly would never wake up or if I did, might I have the need to rename myself Jonah?

The image they liked was from my helicopter series over the Big island a few months ago.

My image was a complete outtake…but you never know when one’s outtake is someone else spot on image. No?

“Hey kid!  Wipe your dirty feet!”