Hawaii Lava Update

The Lineman Life Podcast

Welcome to another episode of The Lineman Life, the podcast for power professionals like yourself. Today we’re gonna talk about lava and what’s going on on the island of Hawaii. This has been one of the craziest weeks for me in a long time. I know everybody on the mainland seen it in the news, all these sensational headlines. The volcano’s ready for a massive explosion. Volcano could throw rocks as big as cows. As you may or may not know, I live on the big island of Hawaii and that is the island where you’re seeing all the coverage of the lava flow. I’ve been getting calls. I’ve been getting texts from all kind of people wondering if I’m okay, how bad is it? So I wanted to share with you a couple things about what’s really going on here and what’s really going on and what you’re seeing on the news. And also what you can do to help.

There are about 20 lava vents that have opened up and these vents are a little bit different than lava flows because they’re mostly gas and a very small amount of lava coming out. There are a few small lava flows, but not many, and I think the longest lava flow, so far, is about a mile and a half. These vents and these little small lava flows, they’re in a fairly remote area called Lower Puna on the east side of Hawaii Island. As a utility, we have some damage. We’ve got about 50 poles down, about 400 people out and there’s basically two subdivisions that are supposed to be evacuated. One of them’s supposed to be completely evacuated and the other one partially, but there’s still a few people kind of scattered in and out of there, staying in there ’cause they have no … really no other place to go.

Like I said, these people are supposed to be evacuated, and the reason they should be evacuated are, they could get, if there is a lava flow, which they’re predicting sooner or later these vents will turn into lava flows, they’re gonna get cut off by the lava. Also, in these areas, the volcanic gas coming out of these vents is very hot and it’s unpredictable, kind of drifts with the wind. So you gotta be very careful, you don’t want to get caught up in that volcanic cloud of gas. It’s not good for you and it could possibly harm you. The land is changing very rapidly. Some of the roads are just forming these big cracks, and I’m talking about … I’m not talking about a little crack, I’m talking about a two foot wide crack, or the road actually drops down about a foot or two right in the middle of the road. There’s earthquakes still going on. The land’s shifting. We have poles just falling over for no reason. They won’t even be around the lava itself, but, the land’s shifting and the pole will just fall over. If all this continues, there’s some smaller communities, also some other smaller communities that could get cut off from … they won’t be able to leave, so you gotta be very careful in this lava area.

My company has kind of put a … there’s different zones that you could go in, so we now have … we’ve got it where … they don’t want us working in this zone one around these lava flows and vents and everything because it’s really not good for you and there’s a chance that something bad could happen and you wouldn’t be able to get out of there so the company doesn’t really want us working in there anymore. We were going in there and trying to secure poles and wire that had fallen down and stuff like that but the volcanic gases have gotten so bad there that we’re just not going to go in there anymore. That’s pretty much it, they put out a news release that, that’s it, we’re not going in there anymore.

The other thing about this lava flow is, this thing could last for months. It’s very unpredictable. Nobody can tell you, even … there’s plenty of scientists here, they call them volcanologists, there’s plenty of volcanologists here and they really cannot predict what is going to happen with this lava flow. This area that’s flowing the lava now, it’s been doing this for centuries. As long as they … you know, back in recorded history, every 10 or 15 years something pops up and they have some kind of lava flow down there. It’s not something new. The last one, I think, occurred in 1955 and it went on for about three months before it stopped but there is no prediction on when this thing is going to stop so this thing could go on for a long time.

Now, the part that I’m talking about in Lower Puna, down there, that is not actually at the summit so the summit of the volcano, Kilauea, it’s about 20 miles away from where this lava’s actually flowing out and up at the summit there’s a huge … it’s a lava lake … it’s very large, it’s probably, I don’t know, a quarter mile across but for a while there it was full of lava all the way to the top but now that lava lake is lowering at the summit. And what they’re telling us, and this has already happened a couple of times, is when this lava level gets below the water table, water is going to start interacting with the lava and that’s going to cause problems. You could have a steam explosion. Now, what would happen is, the sides of this large lava lake are collapsing … the solid … you know, there’s nothing to hold them up anymore so this rock falls in, it clogs up and then all of a sudden the steam builds up from the water table being introduced into the lava and you have a large explosion.

A couple of days ago we had that very thing happen. It was a pretty large explosion but it wasn’t that bad. I think it put ash out about 30,000 feet, a huge column of ash, which normally doesn’t flow out of the crater and this could cause another problem as far as contaminating insulators. Like, if we get a lot of ash on an insulator and it gets wet, then you’re going to have tracking and so it could cause a real problem for us. So far, so good. So that’s what’s really going on with the volcano. You know, what is not being said on the news and what you’re not seeing is 95% of Hawaii Island is just fine. You don’t even know anything’s even going on. There’s really no danger anywhere else except that Puna district. There’s saying tourism’s down 50%, we’ve got cruise ships that come here every week, come to Hilo and they come over to the [inaudible 00:07:08]. The cruise ships have canceled so there’s kind of a lot of hype going on about this thing which, it’s really not that bad. It’s not as bad as they try to portray it on the news. But, hey that’s the news. They need headlines, right, they gotta make it look like all of Hawaii Island is about to fall into the ocean.

Now, if you’re a lineman, the reason we go on storms, the reason we do things, is to help people. You know, I bet the most fulfilling times in your career was when you’re helping people and getting the thank you from people when you’re getting the lights back on. You know, that drives you to work harder. I know it used to drive me to work harder. Sometimes it’s not for the money, it’s to help people.

Now, when there are bad storms you always hope they’re not in your service area because you’re going to worry about your family, you’re going to worry about your house and it’s just a whole different thing when it’s in your area. So, 1989 I was still working in Charleston, South Carolina, Hurricane Hugo came through, so I have a wife and two kids, at that time my daughter was about five and my son was, I think, about six months old. They made us, all the lineman, stay at the barn. We had to stay during … actually ride out the storm at the barn, they didn’t want us to go home. So, my family, luckily, I live right next door to my father-in-law and mother-in-law so my wife got to go over and she stayed and rode out the storm and my two kids with her father and her mother, which was good for me. I didn’t have to worry so much. I was still worried but I didn’t have to worry so much. At least somebody was there to help them in case something happened.

The other good thing about this is, after the storm, there was a lot of devastation. My own house had a lot of damage to my roof. There was so many trees in the yard you couldn’t even get close to it and luckily my father-in-law took the time to go over to my house and he … while I was actually working, he cleaned up for me and patched my roof and did some other things so I was lucky. Now, when you go to other areas to work, you know, sometimes we forget that people are suffering. I’m sure you’ve seen some of the heartache. I know I … I’ve worked hurricanes all up and down the east coast and I’ve seen some houses … I can remember one in particular, this humongous oak tree, it fell on this house and this house … there was no way they could ever rebuild this house and those people were devastated. So you can kind of relate this to down here in Lower Puna with this lava flow.

There’s hundreds of people here in shelters now and this is an ongoing thing, nobody knows how long it’s going to be before they can go back home. A lot of people don’t have a place to go. I think there’s been about 40 homes actually burned to the ground from this lava flow. Another bad thing about the lava is, if lava flows on your land, basically … first of all your house is going to burn down, second of all, your land is basically worthless because this is solid rock and sometimes it’s five, ten foot high and you’re not … you just don’t go in there and haul it off. It’s got to be chipped out with some kind of hydraulic hammer and it’s very expensive to try to do that. So, basically, these people have lost their home and they’ve lost their land.

You know, I always felt I was fortunate to make good money as a lineman so I always tried to pay back that good fortune and I know you feel the same way. So, what I’m saying, if you can help, there’s a … I’m going to give you a couple of websites you can go to and … like I said, these people are deserving to be helped. They’re just staying in a shelter. Some of them don’t … they don’t have a future. They don’t know where they’re going to go. They don’t have relatives to stay with, and you don’t have a house or you don’t have any land anymore, I don’t know what … it’s a very sad situation.

The two places … the first one is the Hawaii Salvation Army and that is www.hawaii.salvationarmy.org and the next one is RedCross.org. Now, when you go on there you can click through and you can find out … it will let you donate directly to the people on the Hawaii Island and Lower Puna.

So, as always, I appreciate it. Sorry it took so long to get this episode on, been really, really busy dealing with this and a couple of other things so I’m going to try to get back on track and be a lot more regular. So, that wraps it up for this week. If you’d like to get in touch with me, please go to my website, the Lineman.life. There you’re able to find my email address, you can contact me. You can subscribe to the show, you can see all my other podcast episodes that I’ve done previously and all my show notes are there so you can see the actual notes of the shows that I’ve done.

One other thing that I want to talk to you about, I’m kind of excited about it is, under my free resources now, I made a … and I call it the Ultimate Lineman’s Slang Dictionary. So what I did is there’s a couple of dictionaries floating out there, I took all the information, I took all the things that I know, I talked to other people, tried to come up with things, terms they know and I put it together in one giant dictionary and this dictionary … there’s over 400 terms in this dictionary so some of these things in there … when you see ’em you’re going to laugh because I still laugh when I see some of the things in there. I want to give you a little bit of a warning, there’s some crazy stuff in there, it’s not for kids, that’s for sure because when we’re on the job we don’t talk like kids so just be warned if you go to download it, there’s some bad language in there but it’s hilarious. You can find that, again, on my website, the Lineman.life under free resources.

So, until next week, remember stay safe and you are your brother’s keeper. This is David Spooner saying, Aloha from the beautiful, big island of Hawaii.


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