Mandatory evacuation of lava-ravaged Leilani Estates is lifted - KFVE, K5-Hawaii News Now, Local Programming

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Mandatory evacuation of lava-ravaged Leilani Estates is lifted

The eruptions that started in May transformed Leilani Estates, and the recovery has just begun. (Image: Hawaii County Civil Defense) The eruptions that started in May transformed Leilani Estates, and the recovery has just begun. (Image: Hawaii County Civil Defense)
PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) -

On May 3, everything changed in Leilani Estates. The ground opened up, lava spewing from widening cracks, and people fled. 

Four months later, the eruptions have quieted — "paused" but not technically stopped.

And in a milestone that's certainly bittersweet for residents in lower Puna, Hawaii County is lifting a mandatory evacuation order for Leilani Estates.

On Saturday at 9 a.m., residents who were barred will be allowed to return. Access to the community will still be restricted to residents only.

The lifting of the order is the return of a small bit of normalcy that residents have so craved. As people return, Hawaiian Electric crews will also fan out over accessible areas of the community to start restoring power. 

Some homes could have power back in days; for others, it could take much longer. 

For those who can return, though, life in Leilani Estates will hardly be anything like it was before the eruptions started. Streets have disappeared, acres of forest are dead, and there are large cracks in the earth everywhere.

Then there's the fact that so many of their neighbors can't come back.

In all, the eruptions claimed more than 700 homes in lower Puna — hundreds in Leilani Estates alone.

In some areas, there are walls of lava where there was once thoroughfares, homes, open spaces, farmland. The 180-foot tall cone that formed around fissure no. 8, long the most active vent, sits near where Luana Street used to cross Leilani Avenue.

At a news conference Friday announcing the plan to lift the mandatory evacuation, Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said that Leilani Estates still remains under a voluntary evacuation.

"We started last week with relaxing some of the restrictions," he said. "At this time, we're happy to move on."

The mandatory evacuation applied to a portion of Leilani Estates, where 250 homes are still standing. 

Magno said authorities helped residents in those homes in recent months to assess their properties, conduct maintenance and then leave. 

Meanwhile, he warned that access to lava fields in the subdivision is still restricted and that Civil Defense officials will be helping residents who need to cross those fields to get to their homes.

"The area is still deemed a hazard," he said.

This story will be updated. 

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