The recent Big Island journey that took me to the summit of Mauna Kea also saw me visiting family and friends in the Puna District, which was itself an adventure.

Located at the eastern tip of the Big Isaland, Puna is the region that sustained the most damage from the Hurricane Iselle. Puna is widely known as “the wild west” due to its remoteness and the rugged individualism of the folks that live there. During my stay, it was beyond “wild west.”

After listening to resident beachgoers at the Pohoiki boat ramp tell their stories of what, for Puna, was a real disaster, it occurred to me that people do some truly nonsensical things while on vacation. Keep in mind that hurricane season in Hawaii lasts until the end of November, and it’s been a busy one thus far.

Several of the folks at the park that day told me stories of tourists driving through the devastation, snapping pictures as though they were on some sort of wildlife safari, but with destroyed houses and livelihoods instead of elephants and lions. Certainly, those tourists were seeking out the damage. They were on roads they most certainly would have no other business being on.

Two of the guys in the group that I was with had done just that. They rejoined us at the boat ramp more than a little spooked on a sunny Friday afternoon. A resident they came upon suggested politely that they didn’t belong on his street gawking at his and his neighbors’ misfortune. In fact, his neighbors had had a generator stolen while it was running and the neighbor beyond them had all of the diesel fuel siphoned from a tractor by thieves. My friends were advised that everyone on that street was armed and in no mood to suffer rubberneckers as they struggled to keep their families and homes secure. My friends quickly turned around. “Wild West,” indeed.

The point here is that it is a decidedly bad idea to enter a disaster zone with no other reason to be there than to gaze upon destruction. This is true the world over. As one of the self-described “Punatics” I spoke with said, “If you don’t have a chainsaw, a generator, food or water, beat it.”

This is particularly important on the Big Island right now. In addition to being weeks or months away from a full recovery from Hurricane Iselle, Puna residents now also face the very real threat of a lava flow from Kilauea Volcano. The last thing anyone there wants to see is a carload of yahoos taking pictures, “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” while residents do everything they can to keep from losing everything they have.

This goes for all of the Hawaiian Islands, whether it be high surf destroying homes on Oahu’s North Shore, flooding on Kauai, or brushfires on Maui. Whatever the intent, rubbernecking disaster is profoundly disrespectful to those enduring it, mocking even. Want to see it? Want to help? Be a volunteer. Donate to the Red Cross. Be a part of the solution, and not part of the problem.


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