On Friday, KHON2 got a closer look at the Hawaii National Guard’s role helping the county and residents during the Puna lava eruption.
About 100 to 150 National Guard soldiers are part of a team called Task Force Hawaii.
On top of their daily responsibilities given to them by Hawaii County Civil Defense, they also have a plan in place in case residents in lower Puna are caught off-guard, or Puna Geothermal Venture is under threat.
Task Force Hawaii has been deployed to man five checkpoints around Leilani Estates. They have what they call presence patrols, where soldiers interact with residents and check for more cracks on the road.
The National Guard is also helping monitor sulfur dioxide levels in the evacuation zone.
“We plan for the worst, we hope for the best, and based upon what the assessments are that’s from coming city and county, we try to look at contingency plans in the future as well as what we’re doing on the ground every day,” said Lt. Col. Shawn Tsuha.
As magma moves through Leilani Estates, Task Force Hawaii is preparing how to evacuate residents from Kalapana to Kapoho. Officials tell us the evacuation plan for these residents is not the same.
“Everything north of, see where those red splotches are, there’s more routes out. There’s more roads and the ability for residents to self-evacuate,” Tsuha said, “but if something really catastrophic were to happen, the communities that are to the southeast may be cut off or have limited routes out.”
Officials and residents are keeping a close eye on a crack that formed Friday on Highway 132, between Pahoa and Kapoho. If lava blocks the highway, Kalapana residents will have an extremely difficult time getting to and from Pahoa.
“I drove out down the highway and I noticed them outlining the crack and immediately knew that that was what it was about,” said resident Louisa Peat O’Neil.
“It was smaller earlier. We were out here earlier trying notify people that there’s a something that’s going to happen someplace close to here,” said Leilani Estates resident Ikaika Marzo.
The Hawaii National Guard says it has an evacuation plan if road access becomes limited.
“In concept, basically we would try to ground evacuate them out first. That would be the best choice. We would use a ground convoy consisting of our military vehicles that can load up passengers,” Tsuha continued. “In case it really goes bad, in case something happens where we can’t use the ground route, we would utilize our helicopters to come in and then have them picked up at staging areas.”
And if something were to happen to PGV, ground transport would be the first method depending on the situation.
“We would load them up in our troop-carrying vehicles that’s on island, and then move them,” Tsuha said. “We can move 226 people in one convoy. So we could move 226 at once with about an hour and a half notice, and we would drop them off somewhere. The vehicles could come back, and we would just do that round-robin.”
The National Guard may have its own plan, but says everything goes through the county first and however county officials want to conduct the evacuation, that would take precedent.
“We are in good hands with Civil Defense,” said O’Neil. “I believe that we have alternatives. It’s not an enforced evacuation. It’s just a notification at this point, so I’m not worried.