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Community rallies to build transitional housing for families displaced by lava

PUNA, Hawaii (KHON2) - More than 600 homes have been destroyed by lava, more than 600 families are now without homes. 

The need to help the displaced started as a conversation between community members. 

Now, one week later, they’re already breaking ground on transitional shelters that displaced families could move into by next week. 

"We needed something really quick. We saw how encampments were cropping up at the Pahoa shelter. 300 people in that shelter space. We were hearing stories, they were coming in to our resource assistance center. We’re listening to the stories, we needed to offer an alternative," Brandee Menino, Hope Services Hawaii, said.

The 14.5 acres below Sacred Heart Catholic Church used to be grass and trees. 

"It looked like brush, like that. [It's hard work] Good work, satisfying work," Bronson Haunga, Haunga General Contracting, said.

Now, the space in Pahoa has been cleared out. It all came from a vision, to turn this area into 20 transitional shelters.

The community acted quickly. Everything you see here, the land, the workers, the building materials, the heavy machinery, and the tools were all donated.

All volunteering to help the families whose homes are destroyed by lava.

"It takes a community, it takes a village to get this done. I mean one-week time? Who would imagine all this work will come together?" Menino said.

On Saturday, 200 volunteers will work all day to bring the vision of a community to life. 

The plan is to have families and kupuna move in by next Friday. 

"It’s a positive thing that will come out of this. You can feel it in the air here. Tomorrow after it's all done and everybody goes their separate ways. When it's done there will be a feeling of accomplishment, unity and serving other people," Haunga said. 

Hope is in the air at this construction site, but down the road at the entrance of Leilani Estates, there is still a level of uncertainty.

Hawaii County Civil Defense recently lifted the curfew for certain residents unaffected by lava. They are now allowed to enter their old neighborhood and sleep in their own homes. 

"We’ve been cleaning the roof off, there are rocks and ash just inundating the property. The water quality and air quality aren't safe," resident Smiley Burrows said.

Burrows lives on Kula Street, but she says she probably won’t go back to her home. 

"It is not a safe feeling to be so close to fissure," Burrows explains. "As much as we love the land here, we always took care of this land for Pele. It was never ours. So I always knew that, and appreciated every day of my life at Green Mountain, which was the most incomparably beautiful place I could have ever landed," Burrows said. 

So far, 63 households have expressed interest in moving into the micro shelters, but there are only 20 being built at this time.

Priority will go to kupuna and families with children under 18.


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