Puna Lava Series: This House Was More Than Just a Home
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Mahalo Blue Hawaiian Helicopters for the opportunity to give Kaiulani closure with an overflight of the lava zone.
“Even though you see it, it’s still hard to believe that that’s your house down there or those are people’s houses that are all gone, because Leilani was full of houses full of people.”
From the air, we could not pinpoint the exact location of her childhood home. The place she was born and raised, where her mother lived alone… is somewhere under a very active lava flow.
“And to see it as just black lava rock it’s still hard to comprehend.”
Let’s rewind. The year was 1984. Queenie and Milton Carter the third, were looking for a fresh start.
“Leilani was beautiful. Especially back then. Mom loved that the beach was right down the road, the school was 10 minutes away. She felt like that was the perfect place to start her family.”
They were one of the first to build in Leilani Estates.
“My dad built it with his own hands. With the help of friends, they built it. Foundation up. Our rock wall with rocks that he got from the land. That was our start. It holds a really special place to me in my heart.”
In this country style house, 4 kids. Shawn, Kaiulani, Hanalei and Morgan. They grew up together, adventuring and exploring in Puna.
“You were basically outdoors. After breakfast, basically kicked out of the house. The forest was what kept you busy 8 hours a day. Kapoho. Pohoiki, Kumukahi. that’s where we spent our summers, every day. You were just out there with nature. That was basically growing up in Puna.”
Sweet memories of days long gone with one recollection that is particularly painful. It was Christmas Eve 2006, after battling leukemia, in that house they’ve called home for more than 30 years…
“My dad actually he passed away there.”
Under that roof, so many memories. Making it that much harder to come to terms with what happened next.
“It first started with the earthquakes. There were hundreds of earthquakes in Leilani.”
Kaiulani called to check on her mom alone in her post and pier house.
“And she’s like yeah baby I didn’t sleep all night the house keeps shaking, shaking. I’m like oh my god mom there’s cracks on your road. And she’s like oh yeah I saw the cracks.”
No one would have guessed back then, that ground cracking and steam would preceed the eruptions. Kaiulani headed to Leilani to do what she could.
“It was like a war zone. The sirens are going off, cops are all over the road. You see like a parade of people, with all their stuff in their house and I think seeing that is when I realized like this is serious.”
From the start the family home was in the mandatory evacuation zone. They needed to pack up.
“I was like I basically want everything. Take everything off the wall, any pictures you see, take it.”
They made it back a few more times to empty the house, but after her husband had a close call with three telephone poles and a steaming crack blocking his only way out, priorities changed.
“If anyone can send help, we are on Moku Street. Stuck in Leilani Estates.”
“At first you feel like everything is important and you wanna take like the whole house but when you start hearing that loud boom from fissures you just reprioritize what’s important. You just pray that the house is safe and you’ll be able to come back to it one day.”
That day would never come. On May 24th a fissure near Ho’okupu street would reactivate.
“That’s when we realized. She’s right there. She’s right there. From the front yard you could usually see the house there was no house there. The lava taking in the gate and right at her mailbox”
Still, Queenie had a way of putting things in perspective.
“The land belongs to Pele. She’s thankful that she got to raise us there and she had those 30 plus years there.
She felt like that house served its purpose for us. It’s weird but it’s kind of like mourning a loss. That something you thought that would always be there, isn’t there anymore. My whole childhood was wiped out. That’s not something I can share with my son. I can’t take him to the beaches we used to go to or even the street that I grew up on. It’s all gone.”
“Memories, all that’s left of place that gave so many a sense of place. Reporting from Hilo, Malika Dudley.”