The road to recovery starts with a road.
It was a refrain heard frequently Wednesday, as crowds gathered for the reopening of Highway 132 in Puna.
This particular road — and its reopening — has been long awaited by a community still reeling and recovering from the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano in lower Puna.
Work has been underway since June to restore the road — one of lower Puna’s main thoroughfares — after portions were inundated by lava during the eruption.
Smiley Burrows, whose property near Kapoho Crater borders Highway 132, said the road will “get us back to our home and our farm. It’s the next step towards getting our own access.”
“This, to me, really signifies the beginning of healing for our community,” Burrows said. “You know, when we said ‘a road to recovery begins with a road,’ it’s the truth. So this is the first step to our new life down here.”
She was “really excited for the whole community, knowing that the people that have had to use these alternate temporary routes are going to be able to just go right home to their houses and not be restricted, to be able to bring equipment to build and all of that … .”
The community is “euphoric” to have the road reopened, she said.
“There is a huge sense of healing and joy and gratitude, and I think the one thing to applaud (is) Mayor (Harry) Kim for helping us and pushing this forward and making it happen, gratitude for the county on actually facilitating it, and to all the workers that were involved with the reconstruction.”
Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz also shared the sentiment and said Wednesday’s reopening is “very symbolic of ongoing recovery efforts.”
“It’s a huge win for the county, the community,” she said. “The community and I pushed really hard for this, and so I think it’s just reinvigorating to see what collective action can do.”
Nearly 100 people were gathered and a steady drizzle started to fall just after 11:30 a.m. as Leila Kealoha led a community-organized blessing ceremony near the upper portion of the roadway.
“When something like this happens, it’s appropriate to honor our kupuna because they were here before us,” she said about the blessing. “And we are treading through new waters in a sense, as far as this road being reopened in such a short period of time, that we just want to make sure it’s safe for our community. So we honor our past, our present and our future, ensuring it’s safe and we’re going to help people get home and our farmers get back to their farms.”
Before the roadway was inundated, Kealoha said she traveled Highway 132 daily for 17 years.
She’s “ecstatic” the road reopened.
“I’m just holding the tears back because we’ve waited for this for a long time,” Kealoha said. “I’m just happy our people can go home.”
Just before noon, the first cars made their way onto the newly reconstructed road.
Drivers waved to those still gathered on the side of the road, and some cheered out of the windows, their excitement palpable.
Katherine Marchese, a kipuka resident, said she’s thankful for the work of County Council members “who really put all the resolutions forward and did the homework and did what needed to get done to get this happening for the community.”
“It’s a huge milestone for us,” Marchese continued. “And now we can finally get home, get our contractors in, get our materials in, whatever we need to do to rebuild.”
The reopening of the road comes more than a year after lava stopped flowing in lower Puna.
A 1.6-mile stretch of the upper portion of Highway 132 and a 1.5-mile section of the lower portion of the road were inundated by lava and created the kipuka, an isolated area cut off by the lava flow.
More than 50 properties were located within the kipuka.
The upper portion traverses from the Puna Geothermal Venture checkpoint to the kipuka, while the lower portion goes from the kipuka to “Four Corners,” or the intersection of Highways 132 and 137.
A 1,100-foot section of Government Beach Road from Four Corners to the lava inundation also was restored.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald