Famiily decides to leave home near PGV despite assurances the area is safe

Posted at 11:47 PM, May 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-10 23:47:33-04

Hawaii County Civil Defense says crews have finished removing all pentane fuel from the Puna Geothermal Venture. But skeptical neighbors aren't taking any chances, knowing lava could reach the plant's underground wells.

Just how concerned are they?

At least one family decided to empty out their home of 20 years and make plans to leave the state as eruptions continue to threaten the plant.

"We're finishing up what we can get loaded in one or two more truck loads and we're out of here tonight. This is not safe. We're in a blast zone," said Steve Hill, who is voluntarily evacuating from his home in Puna to a second home the family has in Seattle.

"I don't think we're as concerned with the lava today as we are concerned with this lack of .. what is really the risk."

Hawai'i County Civil Defense Agency officials confirm all 60,000 gallons of pentane — a highly flammable liquid that was stored on site — have been relocated to Shipman Industrial in Keaau. But the Hills say that was only one of their concerns. 

"We know that Halemaumau is in deflation. We know that the lava is coming down underneath us and if you're here for more than an hour you'll feel it, because it feels like the earth is breathing," he said.

His wife, Mae, added: "It's not the earthquakes, the earth is moving. She's alive. It's Pele. And so if that's what's going on at the surface — what's going on 4,000 to 7,000 feet down."

The Hills know how fortunate they are to have another home to evacuate to... and understand if others think their decision is extreme — but the family says rising concerns about their safety have only been escalated by a lack of information and accountability from PGV and county officials. 

"We are fully capable of making the right decisions for our families," Mae Hill said. "It's an informed consent, just like in medicine. They have an obligation to operate in a proprietary manner for their fiduciaries but they also have an obligation to operate in a safe manner for their neighbors."

PGV is a geothermal energy conversion plant that generates electricity for the island. Officials shut down operations last week when the lava threat began. But residents say PGV has offered no explanation of the safety mechanisms that may be in place to keep the plant secure and area families safe. 

On Wednesday, the governor issued an emergency proclamation, giving the state the authority to oversee safety operations at the plant, including the removal of pentane from the site. Gov. David Ige said the order was needed because he didn't feel pentane was being moved quickly enough.

It took the Hills five days to pack up two decades of life.  But they know it could be much longer before this threat comes to an end. 

"The people of Puna have had enough. And they need a voice," Mae Hill said. 

Her husband added: "We think fondly of Madam Pele. We left her a glass a gin. We hope she thinks we're good stewards. And she's fit to leave our land and home intact."

The Hills say they want to return someday. And if their house is no longer standing — they'll rebuild.

Puna Geothermal Venture officials didn't return calls for comment.

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