Edwin Montoya’s family carved their farm on the slopes of the Kilauea volcano out of “raw jungle,” transforming it into a fertile collection of gardens, animal pens and fruit trees. Now it’s in peril from the land it stands on.
- Officials warn that lava could flow downhill and burn areas that are not currently in danger
- Toxic volcanic gas could kill people, especially the elderly and those with breathing problems
- A number of residents are refusing to leave their homes
A few kilometres up the hill, lava has destroyed dozens of homes, and Mr Montoya’s daughter’s farm is in an evacuation zone.
But he plans to stay unless he is forced to leave.
“I’m going to go ahead and stick it out,” he said.
“If it happens, if it blows its top and I’m there at the time, I’m 76 years old. I’ve lived a good life.”
He likes his life on Mystic Forest Farm, in a purple octagonal house his family built nearly 20 years ago.
As he waits out the volcano, Mr Montoya is tending to the farm’s animals — sheep, chickens, rabbits and several cats and dogs — and watching over the property to prevent looting.
Officials warn that lava could flow downhill and burn areas that are not currently in danger, and toxic volcanic gas could kill people, especially the elderly and those with breathing problems.
Events remain unpredictable.
The US National Guard tests air quality near cracks emitting toxic gasses from a lava flow in the Leilani Estates. (AP: Caleb Jones)
On the first day residents were allowed back in, a mobile phone alert went out urging them to leave after a vent opened up and began spewing sulfur dioxide.
Officials were worried that some residents could become trapped.
The fumes wafted down on the farm from the open fissures above.
“It was really cloudy with a lot of sulfur in the air … It hurt my throat. It was pretty miserable,” Mr Montoya said.
Residents of Lanipuna Gardens, a subdivision directly to the east of the volcano-affected Leilani Estates, still cannot return because of danger from volcanic gases.
Mr Montoya’s 45-year-old daughter, Tesha “Mirah” Montoya, wasn’t especially worried about the gases.
The tipping point for her to evacuate, she said, was the earthquakes that preceded the eruption.
“I felt like the whole side of our hill was going to explode,” she said after a magnitude-6.9 quake rocked her land.
Because there’s no indication when the eruption might stop, or how far the lava might spread, the volcano has forced people living in and around the Leilani Estates subdivision to make tough decisions.
Some residents insist on staying to watch over their property.
Others have abandoned their homes without knowing when they will be able to return, or if they will come back to find their houses turned to ash and buried under solid rock.