HILO, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Hawaii National Guard is preparing for a worst-case scenario when It comes to the ongoing volcanic activity: A mass evacuation of as many as 2,000 people who live on Kilauea’s east rift zone.
The Hawaii National Guard says it has four Black Hawk helicopters that could be used to get people out of lower Puna.
Two helicopters are already being used to survey land in the area, and it has also two choppers that can be used to airlift patients.
At the Emergency Operations Center in Hilo, a number of members are preparing for that worst-case — in which one or more new lava outbreaks in Puna completely cut off access to homes.
For one guard member, the mission to save lives hits close to home.
Senior Master Sgt. Makani Miller is a Puna resident and said it’s “surreal” to be responding to such a large-scale disaster in his own backyard.
Lt. Col. Shawn Tsuha, commander of Task Hawaii, said he’s very concerned about the possibility of a major fissure opening up in the east rift zone “that would isolate the communities below Leilani Estates and also block off certain roads that the community needs to evacuate the area.”
Officials say the national guard is ready to call for help from other military branches if needed.
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.
“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.
The eruption in and around Leilani has now covered more than 116 acres with lava, and destroyed 36 buildings, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense officials. The county reported 217 people were staying at a shelter at the Pahoa Community Center, and county parks officials reported an influx of another 30 to 40 people at the shelter this morning.
Another 25 were staying at a shelter in Keaau, and many hundreds more are staying with friends or family.
The PGV plant is shut down, but Snyder said the team is considering the potential hazards from hydrogen sulfide and other gasses if one of the deep PGV wells is ruptured by an earthquake, lava flow or other volcanic activity.
The Ige administration announced Wednesday that “contingency plans will be made to secure and evacuate area residents should lava intrusions cause elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) or sulfur dioxide (SO2) to be released.”
“Basically, the next mission at PGV is to address the wells,” Snyder said. “They’re looking to get added expertise to deal with any uncontrolled releases.” She was unable to be more specific.
Civil Defense message for Friday, May 11th at 11:00 AM
As a precautionary measure, residents of Lower Puna, between Kapoho and Kalapana, are advised to be on the alert in the event of possible gas emissions and volcanic eruption.
Because there may be little to no advance notice to evacuate, you should be prepared to evacuate at short notice. Take this time to prepare.
If you care to evacuate voluntarily, be advised that the County evacuation shelters are located at the Pahoa Community Center or Kea’au Community Center.
Food will be provided at the shelters. Accommodations for animals are also provided at the shelters. You are responsible for their care.
This is a precautionary message. We want everyone in the Lower Puna area to be ready, and to remain safe.
For your information, all beach parks in Lower Puna have been closed, including the Pohoiki Boat Ramp.
You will be provided with regular updates. Keep yourself informed by listening to your radio station.