HI: Kilauea Takes Away Wages, but There’s Been Only One Injury So Far

Liz Carey

Pahoa, HI (WorkersCompensation.com) – After weeks of lava flowing from Kilauea, thousands are out of work from closings, or lack of tourism.

Kilauea began erupting on May 3 with more than 20 large fissures opening up near the Leilani Estates subdivision. In the past week, the volcano has spewed lava, sometimes as high as thousands of feet into the air, and showering the area with “lava bombs.” Molten hot magma now flows over the southwest corner of the island, destroying vegetation and structures in its path, and making some roads impassable.

Residents now face toxic fumes in the air as Sulphur dioxide comes out of the volcano and Laze – Lava Haze containing hydrochloric acid and tiny shards of volcanic glass is created when lava reaches the sea water on the coast of the island.

Another hazard, the explosion of flammable gas, was reduced earlier this month when workers removed 50,000 gallons of pentane used at Puna Geothermal. The plant harnesses the heat and steam from the earth’s core to generate 38-megawatts of electricity, or roughly one quarter of the island’s electricity. Workers this week were capping 11 wells on the property to prevent toxic gas from wafting out after lava entered and then stalled on the property, according to the Associated Press.

“Right now, they’re in a safe state,” Mike Kaleikini, senior director of Hawaii affairs for the Puna Geothermal Venture plant, told the Associated Press.

In a statement on May 15, Ormat Technologies said it was unlikely the lava would affect the plant.

“Currently there is no physical damage to the Puna facilities above-ground, however, we will be able to assess the impact of the volcanic eruption on the Puna geothermal wells only after the situation stabilizes,” Isaac Angel, CEO of Ormat Technologies, said in a statement. “We continue to monitor the situation in coordination with HELCO, and with local and state authorities. We expect to restore the Puna operations as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The company said it has property and business interruption insurance policies that include coverage for volcanic eruptions earthquakes, and that it plans to submit a claim for business interruption.

Only one serious injury has been reported — a man trying to save his house from lava was struck by a lava bomb the size of a bowling ball, according to Associated Press reports, which snapped his leg in half.

Officials with the County of Hawaii, in an interview with WorkersCompensation.com, would not comment on whether or not any county employees had been hurt or had complications from breathing in toxic fumes while working.

As reported previously on WorkersCompensation.com, workers face the possibility of inhaling toxic gases, but no injuries had been reported as of last week.

But people’s livelihood has disappeared in many cases. Earlier this month, officials shut down Hawaii Volcanoes National Park because of concerns for visitor safety. The closure resulted in the loss of an estimated 2,000 jobs. Hawaii tourism officials say bookings have been reduced by half through July. Officials estimate the state will lose more than $222 million in wages and tourism spending.

There is no indication when Kilauea will stop erupting. The volcano has been actively erupting since 1983, but this is its first major eruption since then. Scientists say it could be weeks, months or even years before the activity ends, according to the Associated Press.