Local volunteers aid Hawaii volcano refugees
The Kilauea volcano is still spewing lava on the Big Island — and local volunteers from Oregon are arriving to help shelter the ever-growing number of refugees.
So far, about 2,000 people have been forced out by the fast-moving molten rock that has destroyed more than 40 structures, including 24 homes, on the eastern side of the Island of Hawaii.
"Maybe their road was cut off by the flow and they can't get back to their house," says Okay Hill, an American Red Cross volunteer who arrived on May 25 from his home in Wood Village in East Multnomah County.
"People were told to get out, and they don't know if their place is destroyed," Hill continued in a phone interview. "If it's covered with lava they've lost everything."
Hill is serving at one of five emergency shelters operated by the Red Cross, where organizers have served nearly 14,000 snacks and provided sleeping space for 3,400 overnight stays, according to a news release. Hill is working at a shelter on the University of Hawaii campus.
Ten volunteers from Portland, Eugene, Salem and across the state have traveled from the mainland to staff emergency shelters, which provide food and water and offer health and mental health treatment. Most are working 12-hour days.
Volcanic eruptions aren't the only thing residents have to worry about. The lava flow has also released toxic gases and laze, a type of air pollution involving hot steam and tiny glass particles.
"It produces this really bad gas that is very corrosive. If you breath it in it can kill you," added Hill, who will be on the island for a 14-day deployment. It's the 41st time this retiree has volunteered to leave home and serve the victims of disaster through the Red Cross.
"The whole island is the volcano," Hill noted. "If the trade winds shift, then we could be in potential danger."
How to help
The American Red Cross is always accepting donations and looking for new volunteers. Visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.