May 9, 2018
Gov. David Ige has asked President Donald Trump to declare a disaster declaration on the Big Island, which continues to grapple with ongoing quakes and lava flow from the Kilauea volcano.
He’s also issued a second emergency order allowing government officials to remove potentially explosive substances from the now-shuttered Puna Geothermal Venture power plant. It’s less than a quarter mile away from the nearest fissure, the governor announced at a press conference Wednesday.
The power plant is the third largest power producer on the island and generates an average of 38 megawatts for the local power grid. Its closure isn’t expected to impact the island’s power supply, which is being supplemented by generators.
The explosion radius could be up to a mile if all wells blow at the facility containing pentane gas, Ige said. The emergency proclamation allows state and county officials to remove the gas themselves if needed. The administration didn’t feel the facility was moving fast enough to mitigate the risk.
“Clearly that was the biggest concern expressed by residents there,” said Ige, who just returned from the island.
“I would like to emphasize that the facility is stable, it is shut down, there is no immediate danger to the community,” Ige added. “We are being proactive.”
Government officials are currently evaluating the power plant’s emergency plan. The state plans on identifying and reaching out to national experts for feedback, Ige said.
The state and county have spent $400,000 since May 3 on emergency protective measures, according to a press release. It’s expected that the total cost to protect residents over the next month will exceed $2.9 million — more than the $1.9 million damage threshold for a federal disaster.
The Big Island’s Puna district has endured a series of earthquakes since last week, one of which reached a magnitude of 6.9. Vents continue to emit hazardous gases. Geologists today said the volcano may be headed toward an explosive eruption, catapulting boulders, rocks and ash into the air in coming weeks.
Evacuations have been ordered in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions, displacing nearly 1,500 residents. Streams of lava have crept into roads, backyards and even houses. So far 36 structures have been destroyed, most of which are homes.
“Pele and Mother Nature will act and we have to be prepared,” Ige said.