Hawaii lava evacuees wake to uncertain future

63 evacuees and more than a dozen dogs and a dozen more cat are displaced

––Honolulu Star Advertiser

If they got any sleep at all, the people chased from their homes Thursday by a surprise burst of Kilauea lava expected to wake this morning to a future they could not control.

If they could even get past a Hawaii County Police and Hawaii National Guard roadblock erected across Leilani Avenue in south Puna, residents who were ordered out of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens Subdivisions such as Henry Caleo, 64, did not know if their homes would still be standing.

And even if their homes are all right today, how long will the lava stay away?

The uncertainty and anxiety of it all generated a base response in Caleo.

“I like cry,” he said.

Caleo, his wife Stella — high school sweethearts from the 1972 class of Leilehua High School on Oahu — and their dogs, Thor and Goliath, were preparing to spend the night in their Nissan pickup truck in the parking lot of the Pahoa Regional Community Center, which served as one of two public evacuation centers. The other was set up at the Kea’au Community Center.

The Caleos were among the 63 human evacuees and more than a dozen dogs and a dozen more cats who were bedding down on cots inside the pet-friendly center’s gym or in their personal vehicles outside by 11 p.m. Thursday, according to the American Red Cross. Three more people checked into the Keaa Community Center evacuation center.

Among those who could not sleep, there were far too many questions to consider Thursday night, such as how long they all will have to live somewhere else.

“We don’t know anything,” Stella Caleo said. “We don’t know if we’re going to lose our house. We know nothing.”

Rochelle Berryman, 64, summed up the emotions of everyone.

“I’m scared,” she said.

Like several of the restless others in and around the makeshift evacuation center Thursday night, moving to south Puna promised a simpler, much more affordable way of life — even with the promised threats from tsunamis, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions.

There is a frontier romanticism to it all — until the threat from unpredictable Madame Pele became real, once again, on Thursday.

“I’ve been planning this move for years,” Berryman said.

She and her brother, Richard, 70, spent 18 months in Pahoa while planning and building two yurts on an acre of land in Leilani Estates.

They had just moved in on Monday when — four days later — they were suddenly told to leave because of another Kilauea eruption.

The last thing they heard was that a 492-foot-long fissure burst from the ground with lava for about two hours in Leilani Estates.

Henry Caleo and his wife Stella were planning to spend the night in their pickup truck with their two dogs, Thor and Goliath, in the parking lot of the Pahoa Community Center Gym. (Dan Nakaso/ Honolulu Star Advertiser)

The eruption took place about six blocks from the Berryman siblings’ dream homes.

“That was no fun at all,” Richard said.

David Moore proudly showed off smartphone videos of his two-story, four-bedroom, three-bath house that sits on two acres of oceanview land in Leilani Estates.

Moore and his wife, Christina, were originally closing on a five-acre parcel in nearby Kapoho when the 2014 Kilauea lava flow meant “we couldn’t get insurance anymore,” David Moore said.

They now pay $3,000 annually for volcano insurance on their Leilani Estates house, Moore said, but there are caveats.

Their Lloyd’s of London plan covers them if lava sets their house on fire, he said. But it does not reimburse them if the house is first knocked from its foundation.

“Earth movement is not covered,” Moore said.

For Henry and Stella Caleo, moving from Oahu to Puna 10 years ago meant being able to retire in relative financial comfort.

They sold a simple, plantation-style house that was built in 1964 in Waialua for $750,000. Then they bought their four-bedroom, two-bath house on one acre of land along Leilani Avenue for $180,000.

As he sat on the tailgate of his pickup next to Thor and Goliath, Henry Caleo managed a smile as he thought about his home behind the military and police blockade.

“I got a nice house,” he said.

Sure, the Caleos have to spend more than $3,200 every year for volcano insurance.

“But that’s the reason it was so affordable,” Caleo said. “I’ve lived a good life here.”

But then “the bad part” — as Caleo calls it — has come.

“It hurts — a lot,” he said. “I don’t want to start all over again.”

Dan Nakaso, Honolulu Star Advertiser

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