Volcano Risk Becomes Reality for Hawaii Homeowners

Posted by Amrock

A volcanic eruption has moved from risk to reality for hundreds of homeowners on the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii, as the Kilauea volcano began an eruption earlier this month, reports the Washington Post. So far, the lava flow has targeted some of the most affordable real estate in the state, where many buy and build their dream homes without mortgages or homeowners insurance.

Residents built without insurance, mortgages

“I’m not afraid of the volcano,” said Wilhemina Kamalamalama-de Souza, an evacuee from the rural southeastern Big Island town of Kalapana, best known for suffering almost total destruction in a 1990 lava flow event. “For me, this place is a part of the Garden of Eden. And if the [Hawaiian volcano goddess] Pele wants it, she can take it.”

The article reports that, like most of the displaced residents, Kamalamalama-de Souza had no homeowners insurance for the home she was forced to flee. The retiree also built her home without a mortgage, as no lender would assume the risk for this part of the Big Island. “In recent times many lending institutions have completely eliminated programs that they once had for financing in these risk zones,” notes the website of Koa Reality, a local real estate company.

Current area under threat tops hazard map

The article reports the U.S. Geological Survey created a nine-level Lava-Flow Hazard Zone map decades ago. Leilani Estates, the neighborhood now facing a slow-moving lava flow, is rated Zone 1, meaning it’s an area where lava could “come out of the ground.” Other neighborhoods now at risk are situated in Zone 2 and Zone 3, meaning areas that have a high risk of being inundated by lava from Zone 1 flows.

So far, the eruption of Kilauea has destroyed 35 structures, including 26 homes, caused the evacuation of 1,700 people and caused one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the island in decades.

“This is my home,” says a resident

“I have friends in California saying, ‘Come back,’ but I won’t,” Les Walton, who bought his home in Leilani Estates in 2011, told the paper. “This is my home, and I’m so glad to be a part of it.”

The article reports that, despite the risks, home buyers continue to come to this part of Hawaii – particularly retirees and the working poor. “We fell in love with it here,” Donald Carley, who, along with his wife, just moved to the area from Santa Cruz, Calif., and also doesn’t have a home insurance policy, told the news outlet. “We had about two weeks to enjoy it.”


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