Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
HONOLULU—The Kilauea volcano eruption on Hawaii’s “Big Island” has forced the evacuation of 10,000 people and destroyed more than 20 homes over the past four days.
The major volcanic eruption — introduced by a series of small earthquakes — produced fissures along the rift zone, and lava has burst or seeped through cracks that have opened up in nearby residential areas.
On Monday evening, Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu provided the Register with an update on this breaking story, saying, “Although Kilauea Volcano has been erupting for about three decades now, for the most part the eruptions have occurred in unpopulated areas. About four years ago, lava started flowing toward the town of Pahoa, the home of Sacred Heart Parish, but did stop short of entering the town and did very little damage to structures.”
Now, he said, lava is breaking through “new fissures in a residential area about 4 miles from Sacred Heart Parish, within the parish boundaries. … The lava not only flowed but fountained, spewing rocks and debris into the air. The subdivisions of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna had to be evacuated, partly because of the danger of the eruptions and partly because of the toxic fumes they produce. At this writing (5/7/18, 7:30 p.m.), 21 homes have been burned and/or covered over by the lava.”
Experts note that it is virtually impossible to stop the flow of lava, which (as USA Today noted in its coverage of the eruption) “isn't like water, snow or mud. It's liquid rock, so it's heavy, sticky and moving underground. And it's nearly 2,000 degrees.”
Church-affiliated agencies are scrambling to help the estimated 10,000 evacuees who have fled their homes.
Emergency shelters have opened in the community centers of Pahoa and Keaau, and the Office of Social Ministries of the Diocese of Honolulu, HOPE Services, Inc. (a social service entity sponsored by the diocese), and Catholic Charities Hawaii are helping to provide shelter, food, clothing, and other social services for evacuees.
“I was at Sacred Heart Church, Pahoa, for the entire weekend of May 5-6,” said Bishop Silva.
“Although the volcanic activity is only visible from there by way of a distant plume of smoke, the town is definitely on high alert.
“Many of the parishioners have told me that almost all the evacuees who belong to the parish were taken into the homes of other parishioners who live outside the affected area.
“The people of the island are all sharing their resources with their neighbors in need,” he said.
The parish hall at Sacred Heart Church has became an information center where evacuees sign up for social services, with help from parishioners.
Bishop Silva confirmed that the Hawaii National Guard and the Hawaii County Police are patrolling the area to prevent looting.
Meanwhile an expert at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Observatory told The Wall Street Journal, “No one knows how long these eruptions will last or how devastating they will be to residences and businesses.”
For now, as the local Catholic community works to serve the displaced, Bishop Silva asked for “the prayers of all our brothers and sisters throughout the country. At this point we are still assessing the needs, but I am sure that many resources will be needed to help people rebuild their lives, especially those who have lost not only their homes but the very land on which their homes stood.”