July 30, 2010 – Kalapana, Hawaii
Video by David Corrigan
Residents of the Kalapana Gardens met with Mayor Billy Kenoi, Civil Defense director Quince Mento, and other county officials on Friday to discuss issues that have added to the stress of living on an active lava flow.
For the residents of the private community that has been historially inundated with molten lava, the anxiety of possibly losing their homes to a new surface flow has been compounded by tourists, flocking by the thousands, who have been traversing on their property in hopes of a closer look at the magma show. Friday’s meeting, held at the guard shack at the public viewing area parking lot, was an attempt to iron out some of the recent problems.
Visitors are supposed to park at the designated parking area, which is run by the county and managed by contractor Jan Guard Hawaii. From there they can hike in along a public trail towards the lava. However, residents say the tourists are falsely claiming that they are visiting residents of Kalapana Gardens in order to drive in and park along private roads and driveways.
Some land owners even pointed fingers at one another, saying attempts by some residents to capitalize on the situation by offering visitors tours or better views on private property are fueling the fire.
The mayor – himself born and raised in Kalapana – announced a plan to lock the gate to the Kalapana Gardens subdivision, giving keys only to residents. Guests would have to be let in through the gate by the residents who have keys.
The subject of evacuation was also breached. Mayor Kenoi said that if it became necesary, he would sign an emergency declaration forcing an evacuation of the endangered subdivision.
In an afternoon update, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory observed lava activity along flows feeding the two ocean entries located southwest of Kalapana Gardens. “Both ocean entries are small,” wrote HVO, “although the western entry is somewhat more vigorous than the eastern entry.”
This is not the first time residents of Kalapana have had to flee from burning lava. In a recent Volcano Watch article written by HVO Scientist in Charge, James Kauahikaua, some perspective is offered on the recent geologoical history of the area.
Kalapana Gardens, also known as Kalapana Vacation Lots on the internet, was founded in the 1960s and boasted 120 homes on 739 lots in early 1990. In 1991, the home total was zero, because the subdivision was completely overrun by lava flows from Kupaianaha. The destruction took place over an 11-month period, but by August, most of the homes were already destroyed along with Walter’s Kalapana Store and Drive Inn (with the oldest water well in Puna), the Star of the Sea church, Harry K. Brown County Park, Kaimu Bay and famed black sand beach, and a well-known surf spot called Drainpipes.
The 1990 lavas were unusually destructive because their path to the ocean was blocked by the Hakuma horst, an uplifted fault block that paralleled the coast. The horst formed a natural barrier that diverted flows laterally through the subdivision thereby sealing its fate. Flows built up along the north edge of the horst so that, by 1991, the horst was only a few meters (yards) higher than the top of the flows.
The lava flows might have continued eastward, destroying more of the neighboring community in Kaimu, but lava was progressively fed into flows advancing westward away from Kaimu. The Kalapana flows were inactive by February 1991. A year later, the erupting vent changed location back to Pu`u `O`o, farther to the west.
For many years afterward, lava activity remained to the west, inundating areas within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. The lush, vegetated landscape that had been Kalapana became barren pahoehoe lava. It was such a dramatic, stark landscape that the opening sequence to the remake of “Planet of the Apes” was filmed at its edges in 2000-2001. A few years later, the subdivision was resurveyed, real-estate activity picked up, and people started to rebuild.
In 2007, a new vent opened east of Pu`u `O`o to a location near Kupaianaha. This brought flowing lava back towards Kalapana. In 2008, lava on its way to the ocean destroyed the few structures that had been built on 2002 lavas just west of Kalapana. A few tube disruptions later, and lava is now heading back into Kalapana Gardens subdivision which, in 2010, is comprised of about 35 structures.
Currently, the flows have slowed, possibly due to a temporary decrease in the supply of lava from the vent. The future of the reborn Kalapana Gardens is far from clear.