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The following was written in cooperation with a guest author, Katherine Morgan.
It was thirty years ago that my husband and I flew over to the Big Island of Hawaii from Maui, for our first time. We were vacationing with our two young children and my father. Grandpa watched his grandchildren while we took the day to explore. We flew into Hilo with seven hours to search the treasures of this island. We started our adventure by driving to the Volcano National Park and enjoyed a delightful lunch; then hiked and explored; ending with a drive down the Chain of Craters Road, with a view of the vast ocean in the background. We saw the majesty of the Sea Arch. Photographs were taken and the moment was captured.
We drove into Kalapana and saw the original Black Sand Beach; so pristine. This amazingly beautiful area of the island perished to lava just a couple years later. We felt a connection to the beauty of this island and to the people in that initial first few hours. The Hilo or jungle side and its rugged coastline left a lasting impression on both of us and 24 years later, after having researched affordable and available housing; visiting the island several times and praying, we decided it was time for our ten year retirement plan and Leilani Estates, with its old growth jungle as the canvas was ideal. We worked on our beautiful, little, retirement home for six years, having only four years remaining before I too would retire.
We have created many wonderful memories and 10,000 photos later can look back and reflect upon the blessings we’ve enjoyed; albeit for such a short time. We lost our home to the Pahoehoe lava of Kileaua on May 28th, just three weeks after the initial threat on May 3rd.
I remember that very first Civil Defense and OGSG alerts that came via text and email; that earthquakes were inundating our side of the island and soon after the first cracks appeared in Leilani Estates streets, followed by the first sulphur dioxide gases seeping from those cracks. Later that afternoon, the first fissure opened and slow-moving lava, appeared and started blanketing the lower part of Leilani.
The Sunday after the first fissure opened our good friends were determined to help us retrieve a few items from our home. We had flown to California on April 11th and before leaving I had felt impressed to take photos of all the rooms and closets in our home and photos of our vehicles. I gave our extra set of keys to our friends. On May 6th we got a call that they were going to try and get into our neighborhood. We sent them copies of our IDs and a letter granting permission to enter our home and gather a few precious things for us.
It took five hours of patiently waiting, as the neighborhood was on lock down. We worried about them the whole time. In the end, their determination paid off and thankfully they were protected. We were very grateful for their courage and willingness to help.
Our Hawaiian art work was first on our list, along with our vehicles and a few other important items that meant a lot to us. As fissure 8 pumps out 26,000 gallons of magma per second, it has consumed approx. 700 homes to date, all the way down to
the ocean at Kapoho, where a treasure of the island once existed; the Tidepools; the best snorkeling on the island. Kapoho Bay is gone; filled in and now a delta of new land; approx. 525 acres is growing.
The first morning after arriving at our friend’s home on May 31st, we went to the Community Center in Pahoa and registered with Civil Defense; receiving a placard for our vehicle. As time was of the essence, we took the opportunity to drive into our neighborhood and found the small section of our street that remained.
Prior to leaving California we purchased the appropriate gas masks for the Sulphur dioxide gas a volcano emits, not knowing the availability in Hawaii and wanting to be prepared. We also made sure we had plenty of gas, water, sturdy shoes and a good working flashlight.
We were grateful we had thought ahead, as we definitely needed to use them when we were able to walk up to the hill of lava that our home was now under. We were grateful for this tender mercy; an opportunity to have some closure and symbolically throw our house keys into a remaining hot spot in the lava. We gave it back and said our goodbyes and were out of the neighborhood before the noon mandatory evacuation time for Leilani Estates.
I have been asked; ”What would you do differently if faced with similar circumstances?”
When we first heard there was a potential for an eruption, I was grateful we were safe and prayed that everyone affected and all the rescue personnel would remain safe through this time. Crucial to this is to be obedient to all the warnings and alerts. To date, there still has not been a single loss of life. With the severity of this Kileaua Disaster, that is truly a miracle.
During this ongoing disaster I was so grateful for the Pahoa Ward and Hilo Stake Facebook postings, all the Civil Defense and Untied States Geological Survey alerts and our good friend’s texts and photos. Staying informed during a disaster is very important. When we first bought our Big Island home, I opted to receive continual alerts from the various area authorities regarding island emergencies.
I am grateful for the inspiration I received to take a photographic inventory before leaving in April. It helped me to see what I wanted rescued in that few minutes our friends were allotted.
Although we have a ‘lava exclusion’ on our homeowner’s policy, like about 90% of those who lost their homes, we have filed a claim; awaiting a decision. Creating the home inventory list was so much easier with visual reminders.
What we have learned is that we should have asked more questions concerning insurance coverage. We will do greater research before acquiring another home. That is the good thing about experience; it can help us in the future to make better decisions and in turn help others avoid our mistakes. We were very trusting six years ago and believed the answers we received. Next time we will do better.
Looking back, I don’t think there is much I would do differently, except try a bit
harder to be more prepared. We would inventory everything, including opening every drawer and cupboard and the outside storage rooms.
Another thing we would do is to put all our important papers in one place; we lost those and my camera and glasses, which I forgot to ask for because I did not have a photo.
Also, having evacuation items placed in one of our cars would be very helpful. We were so grateful for the amazing help we received but would ask for additional help when faced with a similar situation of being away from our home; unable to
return in time. There are many willing, but asking is important.
We would definitely ask multiple sources what we should expect in the area we choose for housing. That applies wherever we move in the country or world.
We are so grateful for the peace we carry with us each day and how we can be uplifting to each other as we look forward. I also love that we have so many amazing memories and they cannot be taken away and the photos I have taken capture all those special moments in time, forever preserved.
Before leaving returning to California on June 21st , we were able to register with FEMA. We are also looking into an SBA Disaster loan, as we hope there will be a way to purchase another small house on this Big Island that we call home. We are grateful for good friends and a good ward in Oakdale that welcomes us back with open arms.
What can we learn from the Morgans?
Stay informed. Sign up for alerts from local government agencies and television stations. Do it today.
When going in to a disaster area bring your own supplies. In this case appropriate gas masks were difficult if not impossible to purchase. A full gas tank, water, sturdy shoes and a flashlight were also crucial. Every disaster is different but as you prepare to rebuild or to help someone else be prepared by bringing your own supplies.
Inventories are crucial for many reasons. They help us remember the good times. They help us remember exactly what we have accumulated in our homes making it easier to file insurance claims and to prove what you owned. They help us tell others what items are important to retrieve as they try to help.
Keep important documents in one place. This year on our Totally Ready facebook page we are gathering and copying important documents as part of our 312 tips for preparing in 2018. Please join us there for help and support, and answers to your questions. One thing that would have helped Kathy would have been to designate their friends as their out of area contact and to give a copy of those documents.
Ask lots and lots of questions of your insurance carrier. No question is foolish. Get answers in writing.
Place evacuation items in your car. This could include 120 hour kits (we have finally convinced you 72 hours is not enough right?), tools, flashlights, maps marked with escape route, extra shoes, so many things could be included.
Ask for help. There are people willing to help but if they have never lived thru a disaster themselves they may not know what is needed, so tell them. Do you know? Could you be helping your family, friends and ward understand how to organize relief? Many families, neighborhoods and wards do not have a working plan.
Finally but most importantly, be spiritually prepared. Do all you can to prepare temporally and then trust in God to fill in the gaps and to know the best plan for you.
One last thought from Kathy:
Finally, as hard as this experience has been and as hard as it has hit us financially, as we lost our entire retirement and the plan that would have left us debt free in four more years, we refuse to steer our course down a path of self-pity; instead we look to the Lord for guidance and trust in His plan for us. We know we must do all we can first.
This week on Carolyn’s facebook page there are several small tasks to do to prepare and you can even include the kids in helping. If you have not already done so please show your support and “like” her page today. https://www.facebook.com/TotallyReady/