Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption

Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
In this Monday, April 22, 2019 photo, Tisha Montoya and her dog Bebe cut through the lava field that covered much of her property and destroyed her home near Pahoa, Hawaii. Tisha and her father Edwin Montoya lived on the secluded property for many years until they had to evacuate due to the 2018 Kilauea lava eruption where the molten rock eventually took nearly all the structures, including the home and all but one small chicken coop that Edwin built. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

A year after a volcano on Hawaii's Big Island rained lava and gases in one of its largest and most destructive eruptions in recorded history, people who lost their homes and farms in the disaster are still struggling to return to their cherished island lifestyle.

More than 700 homes were destroyed in the historic eruption, and most people will never move back to their land.

Over four months, Kilauea spewed enough lava to fill 320,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, burying an area more than half the size of Manhattan in up to 80 feet (24 meters) of now-hardened molten rock. The lava reduced landmarks, streets and neighborhoods to a vast field of blackened boulders and volcanic shard.

But the disaster, which county officials estimate will cost about $800 million to recover from, affected more than just the people and places in the lava's path.

Dozens of nearby homes that were spared still sit empty, either cut off by surrounding flows, damaged by airborne debris or downwind of cracks that continue to spew toxic gases.

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim, who lost a home in the eruption, says people are just beginning to come to terms with the devastation.

"We as human beings wish for normal to come back," Kim said. "In a volcanic eruption, everything you know is no longer there."

The longtime mayor says many outsiders question why anyone would want to live on the side of an active volcano.

"This is and was a very beautiful place to live. It was special," Kim said. "It's not just a home, it's a lifestyle here."

Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
In this Tuesday, April 23, 2019 photo, visitors Bruno Hoschstrasser, left, and Mirjam Grylka, both from Switzerland, watch surfers from a newly formed black sand beach below Kilauea volcano near Kapoho, Hawaii. The beach was created as lava from the 2018 Kilauea eruption entered the ocean, broke apart and churned through the water. Before the eruption, the shoreline was about 100 yards inland from where it is now. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

A FATHER'S FINAL WISH

Among those whose lives were forever changed are Tisha Montoya and her family, who lived off the grid on several acres downslope from where the eruption began.

They had a large house and several cabins, along with greenhouses, pavilions and animal pastures. Montoya harvested different types of exotic fruit and had a pineapple garden, sheep, chickens, ducks, rabbits and Guinea pigs.

On May 4, the day after the eruption started, she evacuated when a 6.9-magnitude earthquake violently jolted the family's purple octagonal home. Lava was pouring from new cracks in the nearby Leilani Estates neighborhood, and toxic gases filled the air.

Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
In this Friday, May 18, 2018 file photo, Peter Vance photographs lava erupting in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. A year after one of Kilauea volcano's largest and most destructive eruptions, people who lost their Big Island homes and farms to rivers of lava are still struggling to regain a sense of normalcy. More than 700 homes were destroyed in the historic eruption, and most people will never move back to their land. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Her father, Edwin Montoya, stayed behind to care for the animals. He hoped the entire family would soon be able to return.

Edwin's children begged him to leave as the lava crept toward their property over the coming weeks. But he was committed to saving the animals, and he was prepared to die doing it.

"If it blows its top and I'm there at the time, I'm 76 years old, I've lived a good life, and if I have to go, I want to go," Edwin Montoya told The Associated Press last May. "I love Hawaii, and this is where I want to stay for the rest of my days."

As the lava neared, Edwin's focus turned from taking care of the animals to evacuating them. He left the day before a river of lava arrived and cut the farm in half. The molten rock eventually took nearly all the structures, including the home and all but one small chicken coop that Edwin built.

Lava stopped flowing the first week of September. Edwin died less than a week later.

"It was very stressful to evacuate 100 animals out of here," Tisha told the AP of her father's death.

He woke her up one night because he was having trouble breathing. "We didn't make it to the hospital," she said. "He passed and then they said later it was a heart attack."

All roads to the family's farm are now cut off, leaving it accessible only by a two-hour hike through thick jungle.

Tisha returned there last week.

"This was the most special spot on the whole land," she said as she paused to pray near the miles-long wall of lava covering her home. "So we buried him here as he wanted us to. His ashes, anyway, are sprinkled right over there on the edge, where the lava meets the green."

Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
In this Friday, May 18, 2018 file photo, Peter Vance photographs lava erupting in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. A year after one of Kilauea volcano's largest and most destructive eruptions, people who lost their Big Island homes and farms to rivers of lava are still struggling to regain a sense of normalcy. More than 700 homes were destroyed in the historic eruption, and most people will never move back to their land. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

END OF THE ROAD

Mark and Jennifer Bishop's house sat atop a ridge in Leilani Estates, their deck looking out toward friends' homes in a valley.

The epicenter of the 2018 eruption—one of more than 20 places where the ground split open and released massive explosions of molten rock—is now in their front yard.

The eruption point, known as Fissure 8, created a towering cone that pumped out so much lava that it filled the valley in front of their property and flowed about 8 miles (13 kilometers) to the ocean.

"We used to be on the ridge. Now we're halfway down the hill," Mark Bishop said last week, looking up at the massive cone.

In all, lava hitting the ocean created nearly 1 square mile (2.6 square kilometers) of new land, including a new black sand beach.

The Bishops split their time between the Big Island and Harmony, Minnesota, where they own a business that gives tours of scenic cave.

They were in Minnesota when the eruption began, so they watched news reports and aerial video as lava blasted from the ground near their home. A friend called one day to tell them the lava was headed directly toward their house.

The red-hot fluid oozed onto their property and stopped about 20 feet (6 meters) from the home. Theirs is now the last house on the street.

"We just feel really fortunate that our home wasn't taken," Mark Bishop said. "All of our neighbors to the north of us are all gone for like a mile-and-a-half wide."

Debris from the nearby eruption infiltrated the Bishops' home and caused extensive damage, but the couple has begun to replace furniture and appliances and recently moved back in.

"Our plans are to stay here, keep working on the home and do the repairs as necessary, and just try to get back on to a normal life again," Mark Bishop said.

Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
In this May 5, 2018 file photo, Edwin Montoya, 76, poses for a photo outside his home near Pahoa, Hawaii, where he lived off the grid on a farm with his daughter Tisha. On May 4, the day after the eruption, lava was pouring from fissures in the nearby neighborhood of Leilani Estates, and toxic gases filled the air. Montoya decided to stay behind to care for their animals, but was ultimately forced to flee and lava destroyed almost all of the property. Lava stopped flowing the first week of September and Edwin died less than a week later. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia, File)

TOXIC GASES

Mark Figley bought his four-bedroom Leilani Estates home in 2016. A retired engineer who moved to Hawaii from Alaska, he envisioned spending his golden years working in his woodshop and fixing up old cars.

Now, he said, the large craftsman-style home with vaulted ceilings and meticulously designed details is a complete loss—even though it was spared when the lava stopped in the front yard.

Gases and debris from a string of eruptions across the street did extensive damage to his home. But that's not the reason he had to buy a new house while continuing to pay the $500,000 mortgage on his now-empty dream home.

"The main reason I can't live here is because of air quality," he said.

The prevailing winds bring the volcanic gases toward his Leilani Estates house, which sits in a small valley where the fumes accumulate and build up in his home.

"If I'm in there for 15 minutes, I will have a bad headache," Figley said. "It's not a livable circumstance for me."

So, for now, the home on the edge of a flow remains vacant as Figley settles into his new Big Island , a little farther from Kilauea volcano.

  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this Monday, April 22, 2019 photo, Tisha Montoya and her dog Bebe stand atop the lava flow that covered much of her property and destroyed her home near Pahoa, Hawaii. Tisha and her father Edwin Montoya lived on the secluded property for many years until they had to evacuate due to the 2018 Kilauea lava eruption where the molten rock eventually took nearly all the structures, including the home and all but one small chicken coop seen here that Edwin built. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this Tuesday, April 23, 2019 photo, lava from the 2018 Kilauea eruption crosses Hwy 137 near Kapoho, Hawaii. Some of the roads in the affected area have been recently cleared but much of the region is still covered by lava rock. It's been a year since a Hawaii volcano rained lava and gases on a rural swath of the Big Island in one of its largest and most destructive eruptions in recorded history. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this Saturday, May 19, 2018 file photo, released by the U.S. Geological Survey, lava flows from fissures near Pahoa, Hawaii. A year after a Hawaii volcano rained lava and gases on a rural swath of the Big Island in one of its largest eruptions in recorded history, people who lost their homes and farms in the disaster are still struggling to return to their island lifestyle. More than 700 homes were destroyed in the historic eruption, and most people will never move back to their land. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP, File)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this May 15, 2018 file photo, lava shoots into the night sky from active fissures on the lower east rift of the Kilauea volcano near Pahoa, Hawaii. A year after a Hawaii volcano rained lava and gases on a rural swath of the Big Island in one of its largest eruptions in recorded history, people who lost their homes and farms in the disaster are still struggling to return to their island lifestyle. More than 700 homes were destroyed in the historic eruption, and most people will never move back to their land. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this May 20, 2018 file photo, members of the media record a wall of lava entering the ocean near Pahoa, Hawaii. It's been a year since a Hawaii volcano rained lava and gases on a rural swath of the Big Island in one of its largest and most destructive eruptions in recorded history. More than 700 homes were destroyed in the historic eruption, which started May 3 and buried an area more than half the size of Manhattan in now-hardened rock. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this Tuesday, April 23, 2019 photo, with a now-dormant towering cinder cone looming in the background, Mark and Jennifer Bishop stand on the deck of their home near Pahoa, Hawaii, which was spared by the lava. The epicenter of the 2018 eruption - one of more than 20 places where the ground split open and released massive explosions of molten rock - is now in their front yard. The red-hot fluid oozed onto their property and stopped about 20 feet (6 meters) from the home. Theirs is now the last house on the street. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this Tuesday, April 23, 2019 photo, a now-dormant towering cinder cone looms in the background, as Mark and Jennifer Bishop walk in the yard of their home near Pahoa, Hawaii, which was spared by the lava. The epicenter of the 2018 eruption - one of more than 20 places where the ground split open and released massive explosions of molten rock - is now in their front yard. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    n this Wednesday, April 24, 2019 photo, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim holds a photo taken from his home that was destroyed during the 2018 Kilauea volcano eruption, at his office in Hilo, Hawaii. The longtime mayor says many outsiders question why anyone would want to live on the side of an active volcano. "This is and was a very beautiful place to live. It was special," Kim said. "It's not just a home, it's a lifestyle here." (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this May 21, 2018 file photo, Doug Ralston plays golf in Volcano, Hawaii, as a huge ash plume rises from the summit of Kiluaea volcano. A year after the Hawaii volcano rained lava and gases on a rural swath of the Big Island in one of its largest and most destructive eruptions in recorded history, people who lost their homes and farms in the disaster are still struggling to return to their island lifestyle. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this May 20, 2018 file photo, Joe Kekedi watches as lava enters the ocean, generating plumes of steam near Pahoa, Hawaii. A year after one of Kilauea volcano's largest and most destructive eruptions, people who lost their Big Island homes and farms to rivers of lava are still struggling to regain a sense of normalcy. More than 700 homes were destroyed in the historic eruption, and most people will never move back to their land. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this Tuesday, April 23, 2019 photo, Leilani Estates resident Mark Figley stands in front his home near Pahoa, Hawaii. While his home was spared by the Kilauea eruption, noxious volcanic gases have made it unlivable. So, for now, the home on the edge of a lava flow remains vacant as Figley settles into his new Big Island home, a little farther away from Kilauea volcano. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this Tuesday, April 23, 2019 photo, Leilani Estates resident Mark Figley stands in front of the 2018 Kilauea eruption that stopped short of overtaking his home near Pahoa, Hawaii. While his home was spared by the eruption, noxious volcanic gases have made it unlivable. So, for now, the home on the edge of a lava flow remains vacant as Figley settles into his new Big Island home, a little farther away from Kilauea volcano. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
  • Big Island residents struggle a year after historic eruption
    In this Tuesday, April 23, 2019 photo, a surfer walks on a newly formed black sand beach below Kilauea volcano near Kapoho, Hawaii. The beach was created as lava from the 2018 Kilauea eruption entered the ocean, broke apart and churned through the water. Before the eruption, the shoreline was about 100 yards inland from where it is now. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

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