Residents in evacuation shelters struggle with uncertainty as lava claims more homes


About 250 people are registered at the American Red Cross evacuation shelter in Pahoa.

They’re grateful for shelter at the Pahoa Community Center, but they’re also unsure how long they’ll be able to stay.

Ellie Garnett has been staying at the shelter with her dog, Tivee, since last Thursday. 

She’s been living in Leilani Estates since 1999, and the lava got too close for comfort.

“If it advances a few more feet, you know, I’m just not sure. I’m pretty worried,” she said. “I’m trying to get into Leilani to try to salvage as many things as I can, because I’m just not sure if the lava is going to be advancing on my home, so we have to be close by in order to go in.”

The Red Cross has two shelters to help the lava evacuees, one in Pahoa, the other in Keaau.

“We don’t know when or if it will turn into a longer-term shelter,” said Coralie Matayoshi, CEO, American Red Cross of Hawaii. “In 1955, we opened a shelter and we ended up, it was an 88-day lava flow and we opened a shelter for 350 people for 69 days, and we served 33,000 meals.”

During the Pahoa flow four years ago, Red Cross shelters remained open for two weeks, even though the flow and threat lasted for several months.

But what’s different this time is that it’s uncertain where the next fissure is going to pop up, and what Madame Pele is going to claim next.

“I’m trying not to think about it (long-term housing alternatives) because I’m hoping everything will be okay, but it’s starting to look pretty grim, because it’s moving around so much,” said Garnett. “Every day we hear something new and it’s scary.”

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