(BIVN) – Gov. David Ige signed a Presidential Disaster Declaration request on Wednesday, asking President Donald Trump to declare the State of Hawai‘i a major disaster as a result of the ongoing seismic activity and volcanic eruption on Hawai‘i Island.
The governor is asking that the declaration authorize the Public Assistance Grant Program for Hawai‘i County, as well as the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program statewide. “As more fissures open and toxic gas exposure increases, the potential of a larger scale evacuation increases. A mass evacuation of the lower Puna District would be beyond current county and state capabilities, and would quickly overwhelm our collective resources,” said Gov. Ige. “Federal assistance would be necessary to enable us to successfully conduct such large-scale operations.”
Since May 3, Hawai‘i County and the State of Hawai‘i “have dedicated more than $400,000 in emergency protective measures” and that cost over the next 30 days is expected to exceed $2.9 million. Those costs do not include permanent work or damages incurred from the earthquakes, and costs will skyrocket should large-scale air and sea evacuations become necessary.
On May 7, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders talked about the situation from the podium at a media briefing, saying “the White House has been in close contact with state and local officials in Hawaii since the initial earthquake and volcanic eruption. The President continues to monitor the ongoing situation.”
In his letter to President Trump, Governor Ige detailed the fissure eruptions in Leilani Estates and the damage from the 6.9 earthquake that shook the island on May 4. He also explained the threat to the entire Puna district. In his letter to Trump, Ige wrote:
There are only three major roadways in this area, all of which are threatened by the current outbreak. If one of these roadways is cut off by lava, communities may be isolated or forced to use alternate routes that will add hours to their drive times. In the worst case scenario, the entire area of the Puna District, which includes 6,000 residents, may become isolated. This figure does not include the large numbers of squatters and unofficial residents living in the area. Cracks have been reported on Highway 130. If Highway 130 is closed to normal vehicular traffic, only two gravel roads are available for evacuation, Railroad Avenue or Government Beach Access Road, which will add over an hour each way to residents’ travel time. Another potential evacuation route, Chain of Craters Road, is currently blocked by lava rock from a previous eruption and approximately one mile would need to be cleared before it can be used. Even if Chain of Craters Road is reopened, travel time for residents will increase by an average of two hours each way.
Lower Puna is an area of high poverty and low economic opportunity. A combination of inadequate infrastructure, geographic size, and a limited economic base has supported a growing population with entrenched poverty. All communities impacted by this event meet FEMA’s definition of small impoverished communities. Each community: consists of fewer than 3,000 people; is economically disadvantaged, with residents having an annual per capita income less than 80% of the national per capita income; and has an unemployment rate that exceeds the national unemployment rate by I percentage point or more. Additionally, the area has not fully recovered from the two presidentially declared disasters in 2014: Tropical Storm Iselle (DR-4194) and the Pu’u ‘O’O lava flow (DR-4201).
Current seismic activity and deformation are consistent with continued accumulation of magma within the rift zone. The path of the lava intrusion is southeastward from the Pu’u ‘O’O vent. Additional fissure outbreaks producing spatter and lava flows are likely. Locations cannot be forecast with certainty, but new outbreaks thus far have been preceded by ground cracking, then strong steam and volcanic gas release. Areas uprift and downrift of the current fissure zone are the most likely to see further outbreaks.