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Volcanic threat

Hawaii Post Office kept going through eruption

Three smiling postal workers
Pahoa, HI, Postmaster Michel Kaneda, center, and rural carriers Rodney Isokane and Bambi Picanco gather in the tent where they served customers displaced by the eruption of Kilauea volcano.

Life is getting back to normal in the rural community of Pahoa, HI, which came under threat when fountains of red-hot lava began erupting from the flanks of Kilauea volcano in May.

The eruption pumped out tons of lava from 23 fissures for more than 90 days, wiping out hundreds of homes and affecting thousands of residents as well as 13 Pahoa Post Office employees.

“It was stressful and crazy. We didn’t know how far the lava was going to go and how this episode would end. I wondered if I was going to be able to deliver again to that neighborhood,” said Rural Carrier Rodney Isokane, who has been delivering to the affected area for 12 years.

“I was worried about my customers. Many of them are retirees and they depend on us for their packages. They’re like family to me. I just hoped and prayed that everyone was safe.”

The eruption and its related hazards prompted the suspension of mail delivery to almost 1,800 homes on two of Pahoa’s five rural carrier routes. For two days, delivery was suspended to all five of the office’s routes, affecting more than 4,300 homes.

“It was a constantly evolving crisis that required day-to-day adjustments to our operations,” said Pahoa Postmaster Michel Kaneda. “There was so much uncertainty. We never knew in advance whether or not it would be safe to serve our customers.”

A makeshift delivery unit, operating seven days a week, was established under a tent behind the Pahoa Post Office to serve the customers to whom delivery was suspended.

This is not the first time the office has been threatened by Kilauea. An eruption in 2014 in the same location sent lava flowing toward the town and the office, but stopped a few blocks away. Neither delivery nor operations were disrupted.

Kaneda is proud of her team’s efforts during the latest eruption.

“We prepared for the worst,” she said. “When the worst came, the adaptability and strength of our employees allowed us to roll with the punches.”

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