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(Updated) As lava flows, Christians evacuate on Hawaii’s ‘Big Island’

Two families from Churches of Christ are among the 2,000 residents forced to flee molten rock from Kilauea volcano

Updated May 23, 2018

At least two families from Churches of Christ have evacuated their homes as streams of lava burn trees, houses and vehicles in Hawaii.

The church members are among about 2,000 evacuees from Leilani Estates, a subdivision under siege by molten rock from Kilauea, the world’s longest-erupting volcano.

A photo of the summit of Kilauea lava lake in Hawaii. The crater rim in this very wide angle camera view capturing the entire north portion of the Overlook crater, May 6, 2018.

A photo of the summit of Kilauea lava lake in Hawaii. The crater rim in this very wide angle camera view capturing the entire north portion of the Overlook crater, May 6, 2018.

“Right now, prayers are solicited for those affected,” Gary Lyons told The Christian Chronicle, noting that one church member was forced to evacuate her home after losing her husband to a brain tumor just last week.

Lyons ministers for the Waimea Church of Christ, which meets on Hawai’i, the largest of the Hawaiian islands, often called “The Big Island.” The island is home to about 187,000 souls and four small Churches of Christ.

Danny Keahey, who worships with the Kona Church of Christ and has lived in Hawaii since 1991, calls the eruption “the biggest one we’ve had since I’ve been here.” 

Still, he stressed that only a small part of the island is in danger. He can’t see smoke from his home, about 80 miles west of Kilauea, but he has noticed an increase in “vog,” fog created by sulfur dioxide and other gases from the volcano.

“It rolls kind of like water. It rolls downhill. You can’t put a wall up. You can’t put water on it. You can’t do anything. It’s going to roll downhill until it stops.”

“The gases smell horrible, and some of them are deadly,” Keahy said. 

“You can out-walk the lava,” he said of the slow-moving disaster, but “you can’t stop it. It rolls kind of like water. It rolls downhill. You can’t put a wall up. You can’t put water on it. You can’t do anything. It’s going to roll downhill until it stops.”

So far, the lava has destroyed 35 structures, including 26 homes, said Gary Roberson, a member of the Big Island Church of Christ, a congregation associated with the International Churches of Christ fellowship. Although none of the church’s members live in the area, “family and friends of the disciples have had to evacuate and have lost their homes,” Roberson said. “This has been such a devastating time for these families. Because of the uncertainty of the eruption, there is no way to determine how long these people will be displaced — even if their home was not destroyed.”

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort sent assistance to the East Hawaii Church of Christ in Hilo, said workers with the Nashville, Tenn.-based ministry. Disaster Assistance CoC, another nonprofit associated with Churches of Christ, plans to help as needed, said director Mike Baumgartner. The ministry already has been working in Hawaii, purchasing supplies for residents of the island of Kauai after recent, widespread flooding there.

A story in The Washington Post describes the details of the volcano’s eruption and its aftermath in Leilani Estates:

Kilauea erupted last week, and the increase in volcanic activity has forced a dozen vents to open in the subdivision, bringing with it spewing lava, historic earthquakes and toxic gas that has rendered parts of the once-serene residential area unrecognizable.

On April 30, the floor of a crater on top of the Kilauea volcano collapsed, sending its pool of lava back underground and causing small earthquakes. Scientists predicted the magma would travel elsewhere and push its way back to the surface somewhere in the East Rift Zone.

They were correct.

Days later, the ground split open on the east end of Leilani Estates, exposing an angry red beneath the lush landscape. From the widening gash, molten rock burbled and splashed, then shot dozens of feet in the air.

Some Hawaiians say that the damage is the work of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, coming to reclaim her land, the Post reports. But Lyons sees in the natural disaster a chance for people of faith to show Christ’s love.

Residents of the state of Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu, are posting this map to their social media accounts to let concerned friends and family know the difference between their island, Oahu, and the island of Hawai’i, where the Kilauea volcano is located.

“At this point in time, immediate needs seem to be taken care of,” Lyons said, “but long-term needs will probably be where the church on the Big Island can make a difference.”

Disaster Assistance CoC, a nonprofit associated with Churches of Christ, plans to help as needed, said director Mike Baumgartner. The ministry already was working in Hawaii, purchasing supplies for residents of the island of Kauai after recent, widespread flooding there.

Filed under: National Top Stories Big Island Hawaii volcano

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