Something profound began May 2, 2018, with the appearance of a crack in road pavement in the Leilani Estates subdivision of the lower Puna District, Island of Hawai`i.
USGS Volcano Observatory scientists were analyzing implications of recently increased seismic activity and Leilani Estates residents were anxious.
Over several days, road cracks that continued to appear become fissures that filled and overflowed with slowly moving lava.
Lava, even flowing slowly from a crack in the ground, inspires awe as well as anguish. In the following months, that was the defining experience of most lower Puna residents. People around the world watched on video news as houses, forest and roads were taken permanently into a newly formed landscape created by Kilauea Volcano, home of Pele.
Pele is a Polynesian deity. Kilauea became her present home as part of her journey across the Pacific. Any volcano deserves respect for the primal reality of its nature: to create while destroying. Sometimes respect for a profound phenomenon of nature may gravitate toward reverence.
The ongoing eruption, beginning with a crack in a subdivision road, has become a substantial catastrophe for the people of eastern Hawai`i Island. With wide media coverage around the world, there is shared mutual regret for the serious situation. By profound changes in the nature of lower Puna, Pele has touched and altered many thousands of lives.
The Dalai Lama is fond of teaching that nothing is permanent. The situation in lower Puna illustrates that reality in both the immediate sense and also in the larger context of a constantly changing world. Natural catastrophes will play an even greater role in the world according to some climate predictions.
The cost and effort of responding to catastrophes and restoring mundane daily life must be expended. In time, debates over the affordability of response and restoration may become politically significant as the number of catastrophic events increases.
In this instance, the outflow of the earth’s magma as lava that had been settled in the upper elevations (at Pu`u O`o since 1983 and more recently also at Halemauamu) was shifted by seismic events to the lower elevations in and around Leilani Estates.
One effect of the recent lower lava flow has been to partially cover and isolate the nearby Puna Geothermal Venture site (PGV). For decades Leilani residents and others tried to stop PGV’s pollution from adversely affecting their neighborhoods.
Commercial geothermal development began in 1983 at the site that would later become Pu`u O`o. Drilling was about to start there when the eruption began at the upper elevation, preventing completion of the initial commercial geothermal plans. The lava flow’s recent shift stopped operation at the PGV facility.
Pele practitioners, reverently observant and respectful of the volcano deity, see those two events as an expression of Pele’s lack of acceptance of drilling into her body.