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Living on an Active Volcano

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In Leilani Estates, a subdivision on the slopes of the Kilauea volcano, on Hawaii’s Big Island, houses sit next to a lush rain forest, and brightly colored orchids can be seen growing wild along the roads. On May 3rd, after days of tremors shook the area as magma moved underground, fissures opened up in the middle of the neighborhood, and lava started bursting out of the ground.

The scenes from the area are otherworldly: a giant black-and-red blob slowly creeps across a road and swallows up a parked car; glowing orange fountains spew up in the middle of grassy lawns; in aerial shots, the black network of lava flows looks like a system of blood vessels or tree branches slowly extending through the bright green landscape. All are a striking reminder of the planet’s inner workings.

After the eruption, Sierra Crane-Murdoch interviewed residents who had evacuated their homes and gone to emergency shelters. Many of them took a very long perspective and viewed the events philosophically, saying that the eruption was simply part of living on an active volcano. “We believe in Pele,” one resident said, referring to the Hawaiian fire goddess, who is believed to shape the land by determining the course of eruptions. “She’s going to take what she wants.” But not everyone took such a dispassionate view of the destruction.

Laura Dawn and her husband live downhill from Leilani Estates, on thirty acres of land in Opihikao, where they operate a retreat center, the grounds and gardens planted with tropical fruits. With no certainty about how long the lava flows will continue, they have had to quickly move their belongings out of the way while also dealing with the aftermath of the earthquakes. Their troubles may continue; scientists are now warning of the possibility of an explosion at the summit of Kilauea. In this video, Dawn shows the personal side of dealing with Kilauea’s eruption: beyond the remarkable images, households like hers are packing up and getting out of the way, and learning to live with uncertainty about what comes next.


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