Editor’s Page: A Little Hazy

Vog is changing our skyline. Kīlauea is changing a way of life.
Christi Young

t was on my way to work one day in 2008 that I first noticed something had disappeared from the Honolulu skyline. Diamond Head. I grew up with periodic sugar-cane-field-clearing fires that sent smoke and delicate ashes into the air over my house, but the haze that enveloped Downtown and had afternoon drivers turning on their headlights was a foreign entity.


Vog was near the top of the newscasts that evening. It was the hot topic of O‘ahu-centric papers and soon even The New York Times was writing about the “thick haze that flattened the landscape and drained it of color. Sky and ocean bled to gray. The mighty, mossy-green Ko‘olau mountains blurred, then vanished. A warm tropical morning in Honolulu had the ashy pallor of winter in upstate New York.”


Ten years later, vog forecasts are a part of our daily weather reports. Morning chat about vog symptoms is as common as complaining about the commute as we gratefully walk into our air-conditioned offices. The word is such a normal part of conversation most of us assume we know exactly what it is. When we get sneezy, our eyes get itchy and breathing becomes difficult, blame Kona winds and Kīlauea. One of the prices of living in paradise.


So, when senior editor Don Wallace said he wanted to tackle the topic, there was a bit of pause. What else could we say? Turns out, quite a lot. Part of the story is what we still don’t know about what we’re breathing. Another part is what we’re doing every day that’s making the suffocating situation even worse on O‘ahu. We’re hoping to help clear the air.


We started on the feature months before May 3, the day a crack opened in the earth at Leilani Estates. As this magazine goes to the printer, more than 600 homes have been destroyed, lava has covered more than 6,000 acres and more than 1,000 people have registered for FEMA help. The images are astounding. The stories of families watching lava consume their dream homes have become horribly common. They knew they were living in a danger zone. But instead of a slow, monitored flow similar to the ones that destroyed Kalapana in 1990, the sudden eruption left many with only minutes to grab whatever they could and evacuate.


“We can’t stop natural forces. But we can help our neighbors rebuild the lives again.”


The situation is similar to the story of Kapoho in 1960. In a 1985 HONOLULU article about the eruption, Gladys Flanders wrote that the initial eruption in 1959 drew so many visitors to the Big Island that Hawaiian and Aloha airlines had to add extra interisland flights. On Jan. 13, 1960, part of the town started to sink into a large fissure. Fourteen hours later, fire fountains shot out of the ground. A month later every home, business and farm was gone. A spokesman for the residents who fought for weeks to save their way of life said: “Kapoho people want to build the town again. From the ashes will rise a new Kapoho.” It did. Then in June, Pele once again carved a path through homes, and lava filled Kapoho Bay.


For the people affected, it will be a long road back. We’ve created a page at bit.ly/hnhelpkilauea with a list of nonprofits accepting donations for them as well as those affected by the flooding on Kaua‘i and Windward O‘ahu. We can’t stop natural forces. But we can help our neighbors rebuild their lives again.


Got a good story? Reach me at christiy@honolulumagazine.com