Hawaii Homes Were Built Despite Lava Risk

May 31, 2018

Lower Puna is one of the most affordable places to live in Hawaii, but the subdivisions were also built on an area long known to be under a lava hazard, The Wall Street Journal reports. So far, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has destroyed more than 80 houses and other structures and has forced hundreds of residents to evacuate since its eruption near residential neighborhoods on May 3. 

But some homeowners may have originally been willing to overlook living in a known volcano zone for the chance to own a property on Hawaii’s Big Island. Homeowner Rob Holcombe told WSJ that he and his husband bought a studio in what they knew was an active volcano zone, but they figured the lava would stay far away. “We figured we could get insurance, and it was worth the risk,” Holcombe told WSJ. Their insurance won’t cover much from lava damage. 

The homes under threat are in subdivisions that were built decades ago. However, geologic maps show the areas were in hazard zones of lava. Thousands of homes sprung up in the area known as lower Puna, which became one of the most affordable places to live in Hawaii. A three-bedroom home can cost about $200,000, half the $400,000 median home price on Hawaii’s largest island. 

Daryn Arai, deputy planning director for Hawaii County, told WSJ that many of the subdivisions affected were created in the 1960s; the county came out with detailed lava-flow hazard maps a decade later, he says. 

“So I can only assume that these subdivisions were permitted based on the limited information available at the time,” Arai says. 

Precise risk-assessment maps emerged in the 1970s. However, federal officials told WSJ that lava-flow hazard maps have been available for the Kilauea area since the 1940s. 

“It was a real lush, green forest,” says Mark Ferreira, a general contractor in Hilo. “But I don’t think they should have built a subdivision there because there was a lava flow underneath. They should have known better.” 

Hawaii Homes in Lava’s Path Were Built Decades Ago Despite Geologic Threat,” The Wall Street Journal (May 28, 2018) [Login required.]