Strange feeling

Standing on top of last year’s lava flow.

Last week my wife took me to Hawaii to celebrate our 35th anniversary. The only disappointment was I demanded we fly, and not ride her Wave Runner. She loves that sucker and only relented after I convinced her refueling would be a problem during a 2,500-mile trip halfway across the Pacific Ocean.

It was a great trip. We had never been to Hawaii, so we decided to take the cruise around the different islands aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Pride of America.

We flew to Los Angeles Thanksgiving Day and spent that night and next day in Long Beach. While there, we basically toured the RMS Queen Mary. We love to cruise, so learning all about the glory days of “ocean liners” versus today’s “cruise ships” was really interesting.

I asked one of our guides why it’s called RMS Queen Mary (instead of something like SS, as in SS Minnow on Gilligan’s Island). RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship. The Queen Mary, and all but one of Cunard’s ocean liners, were prefaced in that manner because they carried mail in the days before cross-Atlantic flying became the norm, all but ending the glory days of ocean liners.

Another interesting bit of information is the Queen Mary sailed the North Atlantic for 30-plus years (1936-1967) for the Cunard Line, which was known as Cunard-White Star Line when she entered service. Why that raised my eyebrows is the White Star Line (before merging with Cunard) will forever be remembered in history as the company that built the Titanic, which sunk on her maiden voyage in 1912.

The Cunard line also owned the RMS Lusitania that was sunk May 7, 1915 by a German U-boat off the southern coast of Ireland. Her sinking led to the United States declaration of war on Germany two years later.

U-boat captains tried, but failed to sink the Queen Mary. She was too fast, and could outrun the U-boats and the U-boats’ torpedoes.

Unique volcano experience

I was pretty disappointed at the start of our Hawaiian cruise when we learned we wouldn’t be “overnighting” in Maui as planned the second night. We were meeting a couple we know who also have a home here, and planned to spend the day with them. That didn’t work out because huge waves at the entrance to the harbor kept us from safely entering. The waves were going over the breakwater, and the captain said they couldn’t see the Pilot boat.

I texted our friends and they said they saw the ship, and the waves, and knew there was no way we would be docking that day.

Freak things like that happen around this time of year. We weren’t able to sail the Napali Coast on Kauai for the same reason (rough seas).

Don’t be scared off from taking this cruise due to my mentioning the waves. There is a lot of weird weather that occurs around the island, and the ship doesn’t tackle those areas when it happens.

The next day, however, I had my volcano experience.

The lower Puna eruption was a volcanic event on the island of Hawaii on Kilauea volcano’s East Rift Zone that began May 3, 2018. We all saw what followed on the news – the slow destruction of anything in the lava flow’s path as it made its way toward the ocean.

The Big Island is the only Hawaiian island with active volcanoes. It is the largest and youngest, and will continue to grow as long as the volcanoes continue to erupt.

We were lucky in that Highway 132 had opened Thanksgiving week. It had been closed since the eruption. We were the first tour brought to the site.

Deep below the surface the temperature had dropped from 700 degrees to 600 degrees, so it was deemed safe!

Hawaii’s active volcanoes are shield volcanoes, which means they don’t have violent eruptions, like Mount St. Helens. There are very few volcano-related deaths because people have plenty of time to escape.

Scientists say it could be another 10 years before they see lava again from Kilauea because so much was released in 2018. It had been constantly erupting since the early 80s.

The problem with last year’s eruption was it spewed from fissures along a rift zone. Fissure 8 had lava spurting more than 300 feet into the air and helped create a seven-mile river of lava up to a half mile wide.

The sulfur dioxide levels were 10 times worse than in previously recorded eruptions, which made breathing the air dangerous.

Many of the homes destroyed last year were built on top of lava-covered homes destroyed in the 60s.

(Note: before questioning why anyone would do that, consider many Aransas County residents have rebuilt after Harvey. Same thing, different type natural disaster.)

In 2014 a Kilauea lava flow stopped a quarter mile from the city of Pohoa, which was basically a miracle.

Lava bombs occur when molten lava reaches the ocean and explodes. Half of the people on tour boat were injured when the captain sailed too close and they literally got bombed.

Walking on top of lava that we watched flowing last year on the news was a little unsettling. Steam continues to spew from cracks in the earth’s surface.

The highlight of the tour was visiting with Jonathan Kealoha, a resident of Leilani Estates, which was the subdivision that was basically annihilated.

His home wasn’t destroyed, but he couldn’t reach it until long after the lava flow stopped, and the air quality improved.

He hasn’t lived there since May 3 of last year.

“We built our home in seven years, paycheck to paycheck, and lived in it for five years before last year’s eruption,” he said.

His work takes him off the island, sometimes for weeks at a time. When the eruptions began he was near Maui, and couldn’t make it home.

His wife, who was five months pregnant at the time, and young son, were home alone.

“The school she was working at was covered by lava,” said Jonathan. “It’s still operating, but in alternate locations.”

He recalled how when they are away they talk each morning just to say hello, and then calls in the afternoon/evening are a little longer.

“The day the eruptions began her calls were a little more frantic,” he said.

There were more than 1,000 earthquakes as molten lava from Kilauea’s lava lake, which had dropped rapidly, started to spread underground through the rift zone, later to escape indiscriminately through cracks in the earth along the rift zone.

Jonathan’s wife, who serves as the safety coordinator at the charter school, worked to close down the school the day the lava flows began.

He recalled calls from his wife reporting “lava breaking out” in friends’ yards, followed by calls in succession reporting lava erupting in yards much closer to their home.

“I kept trying to get a flight back, but everything was sold out,” said Jonathan. “My wife left to go to her mother’s house, and then came back the next day to get my truck and some other things in the house.

“I finally got back and we grabbed everything we could. You didn’t know if you would have another chance.

“Then a 5.1 earthquake hit and lava was going around everywhere. That’s when you have to make decisions about life versus material things.

“The roads started cracking, which made it hard to get places. What normally took five minutes to drive became a 45-minute drive.

“We were watching places explode on the news and wondering if any of the explosions was our house.

“Then a 6.9 earthquake hit. Everyone feared a tsunami would hit.

“I literally started wondering if this was going to be the end of world ... earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis.”

When Jonathan was able to return to his home he found large cracks across his street.

“My wife would start crying when the cracks started to open (month’s before) because that’s where the lava came from,” said Jonathan.

Luckily, there were no lava flows from the cracks near their home.

In all, there were 24 fissures where lava erupted.

“They stated opening up straight in line with our house,” Jonathan said. “Fissure 8 became the main fissure. It shot lava 400 feet into the air. The sulfur dioxide was bad, killing trees and plants. Rock ash just floated in the air.

“Our water (in water catchers) turned toxic.”

The Kealohas haven’t moved back to their house.

“We want to come back, but don’t know when. We have moved four different times. We just have bare necessities in a rental place,” said Jonathan.

What made me want to visit with him is we have both lived through a natural disaster and survived.

I know you know it’s different, after living through Harvey.

When we talk to people who have walked a similar path, we no longer just try to feel empathy (because we don’t truly understand). We actually understand the emotions behind the words they speak.

Until next week, have a good week.

Mike Probst can be reached at

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.