Kilauea Volcano Disrupts Big Island's Tourist-Dependent Economy
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now to Hawaii, where the images coming from the volcanic eruption on Hawaii's Big Island are spectacular and heartbreaking. More than 80 buildings have been destroyed by the gushing and flowing lava. Smaller eruptions continue to punch plumes of ash into the sky. But for most people on the Big Island, the lava and ash are actually far away. Closer is the impact the eruption is having on the island's tourist-dependent economy.
NPR's Nathan Rott has this report.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: On a normal weekend, the parking lot outside of the Lava Rock Cafe would be abuzz. Tour buses would be dropping off visitors fresh off their visit to neighboring Volcanoes National Park for a lava tube plate lunch or a cinder cone side. The adjacent stores would be ringing up lava puddle postcards and Kilauea keychains. This weekend, though...
ADELE TRIPP: Oh, yeah, dead - nothing. Like a graveyard. It's very sad.
ROTT: Adele Tripp is the manager here, and she says business has come to a near halt ever since the recent eruption and the partial closure of the national park, the biggest tourist destination in the state. The volcano is a huge draw.
TRIPP: We need it to be just enough crazy but not too crazy.
ROTT: And right now is too much crazy. Tripp says they're cutting hours at these shops. A couple of restaurants just down the road...
TRIPP: They're going to close for three weeks or until further notice.
ROTT: They're just going to full-on shut down.
TRIPP: Just going to shut down because they can't afford to keep their people working when you only have a few customers coming in.
ROTT: The physical effects of the volcano and lava flows are only being felt on a small corner of this roughly 4,000-square-mile Big Island. Even here in the town called Volcano - only about a 10-minute drive from the actual crater - it really seems like just another day. But the economic impacts of the eruption are being felt island-wide.
SARAH STEINBRECHER: I can see just around town that it's a lot quieter, too. And a lot of the businesses are laying off people, but we're hanging in there right now.
ROTT: Natalie Sampaio is the owner of Hilo Ocean Adventures, a snorkel and scuba outfitter about 30 miles from the volcano.
Sampaio's store, like many here in Hilo, rely on cruise ships for a lot of their income. Since the eruption, those cruise ships have stopped coming to port, costing the economy an estimated $3 million through July.
Sarah Steinbrecher is one of the employees here.
STEINBRECHER: People are under the impression that the whole island is erupting and sinking into the sea and, you know, really this is just how this - how all of the Hawaiian island were made.
ROTT: You hear this frustration all over the Big Island. Many people here blame the over-excited news coverage. Tourism officials say the booking pace for the summer has slowed by almost 50 percent. People are canceling hotel stays and conferences, fishing trips and bike tours. But locals argue there's still plenty to do.
(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPLANE)
ROTT: And you hear that at the Kona International Airport on the other side of the island more than a hundred miles away from the volcano.
Cathy Fischer is getting ready to fly back to Madison, Wis., after a week-long trip.
CATHY FISCHER: The main way it affected us is probably the vog.
ROTT: That's the volcanic fog, which happens all the time here - just more so now.
FISCHER: And we were planning on, you know, like, Hawaiian sunsets and all of the nice stuff, and it was pretty much just, like, a fade to grey at night. Other than that, pretty much no effect at all.
ROTT: The north side of the island was fine, she says. The water was nice. And hey, she says, it's a little less crowded than it would be otherwise. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Volcano, Hawaii. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.