(BIVN) – Speaking to a crowd of mostly state and local media on Monday afternoon, Hawaii County managing director Wil Okabe had something to say about the national coverage of the ongoing volcanic eruption in lower Puna, and its effect on tourism to the island.
While Okabe was complimentary of the assistance provided by Governor David Ige, he was less enthusiastic about information found over social media.
“There’s a lot of things happening on social media,” Okabe began. “Social media, it has its place. But in this particular situation, we do not want to create any panic, to any of our constituents or the people of this island. Because we don’t want to give wrong messages not only to our island, but to the rest of the country. Because what we’re having right now is an economical impact, as people are trying to cancel their reservations in Kona in other parts of the island.”
Okabe said the current eruption is only impacting less than 5% of the area on the Big Island “It’s like having a situation where they talk about Disneyland, so everybody gonna start canceling all their reservations in Colorado,” Okabe said.
The Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ross Birch said the impact to tourism is becoming “quite substantial” and that the booking pace into the summer months is off by almost 50%.
“All of you here in the media today needs to send that message,” Okabe told reporters, “that Hawaii County, Hawaii Island, is safe. The rest of the state is safe. This is Hawaii Island, this is not Hawaii. When they say Hawaii they think it’s the whole state.”
Turning back to social media, Okabe said that “when you have people that are going into the area illegally, it creates a very big problem for the efforts that we’re trying to do. I mean it’s good, people like to see that, we understand that. But to get the factual information you have to tune in to the Hawaii County Civil Defense to get the most latest information possible, because we do not want to create panic.”
Okabe also had harsh words for state legislators, although he did not name any one lawmaker specifically. “People in the legislature are not involved in the (Emergency Operations Center), so if you ask any legislative person who is not in the EOC, trying to answer questions or trying to have resolutions of what needs to be done,” Okabe said, “they have no idea of what they’re saying, because they’re not involved in the process.”
There has been some tension between the administration and other branches of government in terms of the sharing of critical of information. On May 9, U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono issued a media release saying that “Hawaii residents deserve timely, accurate, and understandable updates on volcanic activity”.
“The impact of ongoing volcanic activity on Hawaii Island makes it critically important that local, state and federal agencies continue to work in tandem to provide accurate, timely, and understandable information to the community,” Senator Hirono said. “This situation is developing quickly, and I will continue to work with relevant agencies and authorities to ensure Hawaii Island residents receive the assistance they need.”