Homes consumed by lava in Leilani Estates eruption, but most residents remain optimistic

Local News

It’s been three days since the first fissure burst open in Leilani Estates on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone.

Madame Pele is continuing to steam-roll through the once quiet neighborhood devouring trees, homes and even streets.

Though some residents remain in Leilani Estates with lava hunters documenting the destruction, most evacuated, taking whatever prize possessions they could.

Steve Gebbie, who owns a home in Leilani Estates, is one of those who chose to leave.

“Life has completely turned upside down and I think it’s just started to set in,” Gebbie said. “Yesterday, everybody looked like Beverly Hillbillies. Everybody had everything in their trucks and now on the run. Now this is the first morning after evacuation and now it’s time to figure out what the future brings.I said farewell to my house yesterday but it’s hard to think about my future, my work, my job, my … am I going to move and I have to move somewhere else on the island. Well Pahoa might be forever changed.”

Gebbie and is only one of more than a thousand residents who evacuated and are running from Pele, not knowing what the future holds.

Jordan Sonner said she left even before the mandatory evacuation order came through from civil defense.

“Due to the panic and the unknown nature of what was happening…and just the little bit of knowledge I had of the gases that are released when the volcano vents, I decided to leave,” Sonner explained. “I took my dogs and items that can’t be replaced and put them in my car and left. There’s a certain amount of anxiety that comes with packing up the most important things and getting out and understanding there’s a possibility that you may never go back…there’s definitely an air of sadness surrounding the whole situation.”

At least three structures had been consumed, including a house on Hookupu street, by 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning.

Video of the home being engulfed by the fast-moving lava was captured and posted on social media by Demian Barrios. Barrios is a professional photographer and has been documenting the eruption. 

He said the experience has been unforgettable and different than other eruptions he’s filmed.

“To sit there and watch somebody’s home burn and they’re not there and their children’s bicycles are in the carport and their grill is outside and their whole life is just being burned, that’s just really when it becomes a tragedy.  I wish it weren’t that way,” Barrios said.

“We’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of being able to see the lava in Kalapana that hasn’t really affected any structures or anybody’s immediate livelihood, but this is not the case in Leilani…it’s sad to know that people are losing homes and my heart goes out to those people.” 

Though residents are anxious and sad, Sonner said she understands the reality of the situation.

“I also understand that I live in lava zone one. My house is smack in the middle of the east rift zone and I always knew it would be a possibility so it’s, I love my home and I love my land and I love living there, but I also understand that if Pele wants to reclaim it then she’s going to reclaim it.”

At least five homes have been destroyed so far, according to county officials.

And there’s no way to know how many more will be lost.

Kalia Avery built her home in Leilani Estates 32 years ago. 

She said she’s optimistic.

“We know that everything’s going to be okay and we all help each other out. The community really pulls together,” Avery said.

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