Living On A Volcano: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Ever since I read Simon Winchester’s “Krakatoa” in 2003, I’ve been fascinated by volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and other catastrophic events that incubate in our planet’s tectonic plates and cause chaos on the earth's surface.
So naturally I’ve been inhaling every bit of news about the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island.
There’s no shortage of information. Or images.
Shoot, it seems every islander or tourist with a cell phone is photographing the fissures and the lava fountains. In many shots, people are standing just a few feet away from molten rock.
The good news is that while about two dozen houses have been lost and the air quality is pretty bad, it looks like everyone who lives on the island is OK. About 1,700 folks have been evacuated from two subdivisions.
Sorry, but I have to ask: Who exactly decides to live on the slopes of an active volcano?
And is that really a good idea?
I know, I know. There’s danger everywhere. Some people live in tornado alley. In flood zones. On fault lines. Here along the East Coast, we live with the threat of hurricanes. And “Palmetto bugs.” Those insects are terrifying.
Fact is, taking a direct hit from a hurricane or a tornado is unlikely. Most of us would say it’s a reasonable risk. But homesteading on what The Washington Post describes as “the world’s longest erupting volcano”?
From what I’ve read, this particular volcano has been spitting up ash and steam almost non-stop since 1983. And the volcano itself has been around for at least 300,000 years, making it the youngest of that island’s five volcanos.
Five volcanoes. One tiny island. Sorry, not moving there.
Yet lots of settlers have done just that. Such is the seduction of the Hawaiian Islands.
For instance, Scott Wiggers told The Post that he bought his dream house in a Kilauea lava zone just four years ago.
“The last lava flow to come through here was a long time ago, so I didn’t think there was any threat whatsoever,” he said, referring to the Leilani Estates neighborhood. “I’m a bit of a risk taker.”
Then there's this unnamed fellow who moved to the same neighborhood in 2004.
”My family is safe, the rest of the stuff can be replaced," one resident told a CBS affiliate. ”When I bought here 14 years, I knew that this day would eventually come. But the reality is sinking in now."
Wait a minute. You bought a house on the slope of an active volcano 14 years ago? And now that fissures are opening and lava is rolling down your street, it’s just now sinking in?
The odds were never in your favor.
Look, I know Hawaii is an exotic slice of paradise in the Pacific. And we've all heard about the astronomical cost of living on the islands. Apparently property values on an active volcano are comparatively cheap.
There's a reason.
The AP described the attraction of volcano living this way:
"For many people outside Hawaii, it's hard to understand why anyone would risk living near an active volcano with such destructive power.
"But the slopes of Kilauea offer affordable land and a lush rural setting that attract a hardy breed of independent people. The landscape contrasts sharply with the state's more expensive real estate on Oahu and Maui, and the bustling capital of Honolulu...The people here are largely self-sufficient and understand the risks of their location. Many cannot get homeowner's insurance."
Looks to me like some residents of Kilauea may have forgotten what the volcano's name means in Hawaiian.