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Hawaiian Retirement Home Overrun By Erupting Lava
gas masks
Gene and Kathy Morgan bought gas masks and got a placard for their car to drive into the evacuated area in Hawaii to see what remained of their home. They symbolically then threw their house keys into the lava as a bit of a cathartic closure and as an “alright, you can have her” sort of gesture, in the words of Kathy. Photo Contributed

If the name Katherine “Kathy” Morgan rings a bell, you may recognize it as the name of a past City of Oakdale councilwoman. Though she spent over two decades in Oakdale, and currently resides in Escalon, she and her husband Gene Morgan considered their home in Leilani Estates to be their primary residence.

That is, until Fissure 8 erupted on the island of Hawaii in May. The ensuing damage caused by the Kilauea volcano turned life upside down for many.

While they were obviously saddened by the loss of their home, the Morgans sprang into action and began volunteering just five days after the lava covered their house, spending three weeks on the big island.

“We had some amazing experiences while we were there, just volunteering in the World Kitchen and the Red Cross Shelter and at the Civil Defense Intake,” Kathy Morgan explained. “The volunteering part was the best thing we could’ve done while we were there. It made a difference for us and we hope it made a difference for the people we were working with.”

The Morgans were able to share in the loss and all the experiences that came with losing one’s home to the eruption. Some people who came to them had just retired to their Hawaii homes, only to lose them. Others had their farms destroyed by the lava.

“This was their whole livelihood, and it’s all gone now,” Kathy empathized.

“A lot of them built their houses themselves, no insurance,” Gene continued.

While the Morgans did have insurance on their home, they were part of the majority that had “lava exclusion,” which meant there was no lava coverage. They estimated only about five percent of homeowners in their area actually had the extra coverage.

At first, the Morgans weren’t even worried about their home.

“We weren’t worried at all because on the positioning of all the fissures. In the very, very end it turned out the one Fissure Eight just took over the whole flow and created most of the devastation all the way to the coast,” Kathy expanded.

Gene noted that the very same Fissure Eight was just down the street that their house had been on.

They became truly concerned on a Sunday when they learned Fissure Seven and Fissure Eight combined. By the next day, Monday morning, their home was gone.

Luckily, some of their friends had been able to get in for about 10 minutes and salvage some of their personal items. After five hours of trying to get into the evacuated area, the Morgans’ friends ran into their home and described the lava as sounding “like a freight train.” They could even see the lava moving down the street from where they were.

“She said it was the scariest thing she’s ever done,” Kathy noted of her loyal friend, who kept pressing to try and grab some of the Morgans’ belongings, despite Kathy and Gene’s requests to just give up and go back home. “We’re bonded for the rest of our lives … we’re grateful for what they salvaged.”

There’s a good chance that Gene Morgan would’ve been in Hawaii when the eruption happened, but due to an injury, he and Kathy had to return to California earlier than anticipated so that he could get proper care.

Kathy reported that Gene often spent up to nine months of the year at their home in Leilani Estates, while she was planning on being there for four to five months this year. The couple was four years away from retiring there for good.

“It is what it is, and we’ll survive. But man, we sure do still want a house on the big island,” she expressed.

Though the couple faced bleak circumstances, their positivity and faith in it all was hard to miss. Kathy Morgan continued to point out that, to her, all that had happened was within God’s plan: “It’s hard to see the big picture right now, but there is no point in falling into despair and moping around because it’s done.”

She also said that it’s important to remember that the volcano is only affecting three percent of the island, though the tourism has dropped drastically “and it’s just devastating the economy … I wish there was a way to spread the news: ‘Go to Hawaii, go to the big island – there’s so much more than this little area.’”

While they helped with the relief efforts, Kathy was able to go up in a helicopter and look over all the lava wreckage. She described it as a spiritual experience, to see all the destruction, the creation, God’s hand in it – “there was just a beauty to it” all, she noted.

“Lava is kind of a way of life, but no one ever expected this,” she added.

The damage is still ongoing: houses have been lost, people have been evacuated, farms have been burned and the lava spread over a wide area. There is still a risk if the walls break down that lava could run over another part of the island. But, for now, the Morgans remain faithful and continue in their hope for relief.