Puna Residents Affected by Volcanic Eruptions

Fernando Pacheco
May 29, 2018

The Kilauea eruptions on the Big Island have gained national attention. Puna residents in the lower east rift zone are on constant alert. Some residents have woken up to blaring sirens with announcements to evacuate their homes and according to American Red Cross of Hawaii, over 300 have checked into emergency shelters.

When it comes to coping with disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says the emotional toll that disaster brings can sometimes be even more devastating than the financial strains of damage and loss.

“Whether they come to us after a mandatory emergency evacuation or as a proactive measure, stress and uncertainty are always there,” says American Red Cross of Hawaii public affairs volunteer Amy Laurel Hegy. “Typically, they’re in a state of overwhelming concern for what to do next. Some know they cannot return to what was once home and some simply don’t know if they’ll be able to return. It’s the mission of the Red Cross to alleviate human suffering, so we make sure to provide them a safe place to stay, ensure food to eat, and give comfort however we can.”

For evacuees in the shelter, American Red Cross of Hawaii also provides access to their Disaster Mental Health Services group. These professionals are available to help develop personalized coping strategies. People experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human disasters should contact Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at their 24/7 helpline.

It’s been three weeks since the first fissures opened up in lower Puna, but it’s still unclear how long the eruptions will last. In the meantime, new hazards of vog (volcanic fog) and laze (airborne glass particles) are developing. Together, vog and laze are making it a challenge for Hawaii's residents with asthma or allergies to breathe easily.

If you’re experiencing heightened allergies, check out our conversation with Jeffrey Kam, M.D. on How to Cope with Vog and Laze.

“Puna Resident at Pahoa Shelter” Photo by: Yukie Ohashi/American Red Cross
“DR 596-2018 Hawaii Volcano - Hegy2” Photo by: Amy Laurel Hegy/American Red Cross

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