Stay or go? Volcano forces choice for all in eruption zone

Edwin Montoya’s family engraved their farm on the slopes of the Kilauea volcano out of “raw jungle, ” transforming it into a fertile collection of gardens, animal pens and fruit trees.

Now the property is imperiled by the very land it stands upon. A couple of miles up the hill, lava has destroyed dozens of homes and his daughter’s farm is in an evacuation zone.

Despite the nearby hazard, Montoya plans to stay unless he is forced to leave. “I’m going to go ahead and stick it out, ” he said. “If it happens, if it blows its top and I’m there at the time, I’m 76 years old. I’ve lived a good life.”

Because there’s no clue when the eruption might stop, or how far the lava might spread, the volcano has forced people living in and around the Leilana Estates subdivision to make tough decisions.

Some residents insist on biding to watch over their property. Others have abandoned their homes without knowing when they will be able to return, or if they will come back to discovery their houses turned to ash and buried under solid rock.

Andrew Nisbet evacuated last week and has no idea what has happened since.

“My home is right in the line of the major breakouts so maybe, maybe not.” he said Monday during a community meeting.

Authorities advised Scott Wiggers to evacuate, but he refused.

“I’m in the safest its participation in the subdivision. There’s no threat to my house whatsoever, ” said Wiggers, a tour guide.

Wiggers said he wasn’t leaving his home on the outskirts of the evacuation zone because he worried that if he did, he wouldn’t be allowed to get back in. But he’s prepared in case the situation takes a turn.

“I am packed. My truck is loaded. I’m not a dumb-dumb. If I watch security threats, I’m out of here, ” he said.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige told evacuees he has called the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to tell officials that he believes the nation will need help to deal with the volcano on the Big Island.

Authorities are letting some evacuees to return briefly each day to gather medicine, pets and other necessities.

Montoya, who moved to Hawaii to be with his family about six years ago, said he saw most of the United States as a truck driver for 25 years on the two sides of the strait. He opts life on Mystic Forest Farm, in a purple octagonal house his family built virtually 20 years ago.

The farm is at the end of a long, single-lane gravel road, with large volcanic rocks scattered about and big ponds of water to drive through.

Montoya is tending to the farm’s animals — sheep, chickens, rabbits and several cats and dogs — and watching over the property to prevent looting.

Officials alert that lava could flow downhill and burn areas that are not currently in danger, and toxic volcanic gas could kill people, especially the elderly and those with exhaling problems.

Events remain unpredictable. On Sunday, the first day residents were allowed back in, a cellphone alert used to go advising people to leave after a ventilate opened and began spewing sulfur dioxide. Officials were worried that some residents could become trapped.

The fumes wafted down on the farm from the open rifts above.

“It was genuinely cloudy with a lot of sulfur in the air, ” Montoya said. “It hurt my throat. It was pretty miserable.”

Residents of Lanipuna Gardens, a subdivision immediately to the east of Leilana Estates, still cannot return because of threat from volcanic gases.

Montoya’s 45 -year-old daughter, Tesha “Mirah” Montoya, wasn’t especially worried about the gases. The tipping phase for her to evacuate, she told, was the earthquakes that preceded the eruption.

“I felt like the whole side of our hill was going to explosion, ” she said after a magnitude 6.9 quake rocked her land. “My heart and soul’s there, ” she said in a phone interview from a cabin on the north side of the Big Island, where the family had hunkered down. “I’m nothing without the land. It’s part of my being.”

The family’s property on Kilauea( pronounced kill-ah-WAY’-ah) has several buildings and cabins, gardens and animal coops. The land also has about 130 various kinds of exotic fruit trees. There’s a pineapple patch and enough food stored away to last a long time, she said.

There are 12 lava-producing fissures in Leilani Estates, but the flow of lava is not constant. No lava was flowing as of late Monday, told Janet Snyder, a spokeswoman for Hawaii County.

A total of 35 structures, including 26 corroborated homes, have been destroyed. Aerial surveys cannot make out whether some of the structures are homes or other types of buildings.

Edwin Montoya is happy biding on the farm, tending to animals and eating from the trees. He’s living the life he wants, just like many in this rural landscape in the shadow of one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

“It’s where I want to rest my bones, ” Edwin Montoya said. “But nonetheless, I will survive. I’m sure I will survive.”


Associated Press video journalist Haven Daley in Pahoa and writer Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Make sure to visit:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s