As authorities reported a 19th volcanic fissure on Hawaii Island Monday, some homeowners are rethinking their future on the island.
Local real estate agents told Inman that several homeowners and part-time residents of Leilani Estate and Lanipuna Gardens, two subdivisions in closest proximity to the active Kilauea volcano, have already abandoned the Big Island for safety on the mainland U.S.
One elderly couple, under siege by gushing lava and sulfur gas, put their homes up for sale, but were abruptly forced to delay listing their two Leilani Estates properties due to the dangerous conditions in the area.
“It’s devastating,” said Renee Hill, broker-in-charge at Hawaii Life’s Hilo Office, around 25 miles from Leilani Estates. “They are elderly and moving back to Utah. They are getting on a flight today, and some day they will get to sell their properties.”
Hill was not optimistic about the future for the Leilani Estates subdivision.
“It’s active right now, and with all the lava tubes flowing and open I don’t see the recovery of the market there in years or decades,” she said.
Some of the non-locals, too, have given up hope on the island and will return to the mainland permanently, said Hill, who characterized the decision to flee as an over-reaction. Hawaii Island is more than 4,000 square miles and only 10 square miles have been impacted by the volcanic eruption. Leilani Estates, in the east rift zone of Kilauea volcano, is four miles.
Lanipuna Gardens, meanwhile, is comprised of 130 lots, each about one acre in size, according to local agent Joy Dillon, on her website.
“I live 10 miles away and we are in a lava flow hazard zone 3 and we are completely fine,” Hill added. “We are not affected by the sulfur gas so it’s not as bad. The news media don’t understand how big the island is.”
As of Monday, 37 buildings, around 26 of them homes, had been destroyed and 2,000 residents had evacuated in the lower Puna area.
Some lower Puna homeowners may choose to go to other affordable subdivisions on the island, further inland, toward Mountain View and Kurtistown, Hill said.
For short-term solutions, the Hilo real estate community on Monday was working with charity groups and local businesses to help with relief efforts for those displaced. The Hawaii Life Charitable Fund, Hawaii Life’s nonprofit arm, said on its company blog it would use reserves donated from agents, brokers and clients, to match the first $20,000 in donations to support families affected by the volcanic activity.
Jessica Gauthier, a Realtor with Elite Pacific Properties in Hilo, met Monday with officials from the American Red Cross and the charity Hope Services. The meeting was called to find housing for displaced residents. Officials are considering University of Hawaii dorms and a community college in Hilo for about 2,000 temporarily homeless residents, she said.
The vacation rental community, too, has been opening their doors to evacuees, by offering space for free or for a reduced rent, Gauthier said. Hawaii Island Realtors have also set up a website for residents willing to offer their homes to those in need.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. Gauthier said a fellow Realtor had amused her by saying on social media she had talked to friends who were excited about buying cheap housing on Leilani Estates once things calm down. They see it as “660 structures saved rather than 36 or 37 destroyed,” she said.
“We all take a risk living on a volcano,” Hill added. “But luckily we can outrun the lava. It’s not like a tornado.”