As It Happens

Hawaii family's home engulfed by a 'big lava lake'

Two days after elementary school teacher Amber Makuakane fled her Leilani Estates home with her two children, she learned it was swallowed up by lava.

Amber Makuakane fled her Leilani Estates home last week with her children, ages 4 and 7

Amber Makuakane and her two small children, right, fled their home in Leilani Estates on Thursday. On the left, a picture from the U.S. Geological Survey shows lava spraying as high as 70 metres in Makuakane's neighbourhood on Saturday. (USGS via Reuters, submitted by Amber Makuakane)
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Amber Makuakane's entire home has been swallowed by lava erupting from a fissure on Hawaii's Big Island.

"Right where my house was, there was a big lava lake. There was just lava shooting up," the elementary school teacher told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"Now it's just a big pile of lava rocks — a big field of black rock."

Makuakane, a teacher at Pahoa Elementary School, fled her home in Leilani Estates, a subdivision of the rural district of Puna, on Thursday with her two children, ages four and seven.

Authorities ordered nearly 2,000 residents to leave Puna, a mostly rural area on the eastern flank of the Kilauea volcano. So far, a total of 36 structures, including 26 homes, have been destroyed.

Praying for looters

Two days later, Makuakane got a call from her security alarm company. Her home's motion sensors had gone off.

She prayed it was someone breaking into her home to crash or loot, she said. 

"I was trying to stay positive and think that way." 

But her friend texted her aerial footage that confirmed her worst fears. Her home was gone.

In this still frame taken from video, lava flows toward a home in the Puna District as a result of the eruption from Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii's Big Island on May 4. (Byron Matthews/Associated Press)

It was tough news to learn, but Makuakane said she was already braced for it.

"When I was packing up and I was leaving and I locked that back door, I had to find it within me to be at peace, knowing that I may never return again," she said.

'Mommy, can we go home?'

Her children, however, aren't so quick to accept their difficult new reality.

"My son this morning, when I was driving him to school, he said, 'Oh mommy, can we go home already? I miss our house,'" she said.

"Even though I've already told him, you know, that our house was in the lava and it caught fire, he still truly doesn't understand. So in his mind, he still wants to go back — and he asks me every day."

A lava flow from the Kilauea volcano moves on a street in Leilani Estates in Hawaii on Sunday. (U.S. Geological Survey/Reuters)

Makuakane said she has spent her entire life living near Kilauea, which has been erupting continuously since 1983.

In recent years the volcano has mostly released lava in hard-to-reach areas inside a national park or along the coastline.

But last week, vents popped open and released lava, gas and steam inside residential neighbourhoods.

"It's definitely nothing I've ever experienced before," she said. "I guess I never really thought that it would come to our neighbourhood."

There's no indication when the eruption might stop, or how far the lava might spread.

Staying strong, moving on

Makuakane and her children are staying with friends while they seek a new permanent home.

"I try to find the positive in every situation in order to be strong for my children and be the mother that they need," she said.

"Instead of dwelling on the tragedy and what has been lost, I need to focus on accepting the fact and rebuilding our lives from here on out."

Amber Makuakane's Leilani Estates home is pictured here before it was destroyed by lava. (Submitted by Amber Makuakane)

In the meantime, she's been depending on the kindness of friends and strangers, alike.

"The outpouring of support is just tremendous," she said.

"Just to know that the Aloha spirit is alive and well here on Hawaii [Big Island] as well as in our country and across the world ... I am blessed beyond measure."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Interview with Amber Makuakane produced by Jeanne Armstrong.

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