Wong raising funds for Hawaii disaster relief
Volcanic eruption, earthquakes causing devastation in his home state
ST. LOUIS -- There is a picturesque place on the rocky shores of the Pacific Ocean, resplendent with the aesthetics of the Big Island: mango trees, charcoaled stones, water inconceivably clear. It's where Kolten Wong goes to unwind in the offseason, where he grew up spearing fish that line its submerged, jagged crevices. In his words: "It's as Hawaii as it gets."
The Cardinals second baseman doesn't know when he'll be back. Pohoiki sits around 25 miles southeast of Wong's hometown of Hilo. Much of the area in between has been ravaged by a series of natural disasters over the past week. The highway leading to Pohoiki has been split in half, the site of a one of nearly a dozen fissure events that have sent deadly lava spewing across the landscape. Dozens of earthquakes coupled with the eruption of Kilaeua, the most active volcano on the island, displacing thousands.
"It's getting out of hand right now," Wong said last week. "It's a sad, sad scene."
As frightening footage poured onto his Instagram feed two weeks ago, a concerned Wong checked in with friends and family. Then as the weekend went on, the images didn't stop. Neither did the lava. Though he didn't know anyone personally affected, Wong felt inclined to help. A GoFundMe page started on May 7 by Wong and his wife, Alissa, features a video of Wong asking for donations to help rebuild the island.
Also in collaboration with the Wongs, the team is selling specially priced $15 tickets to Sunday's game against the Phillies to help those impacted by the Kilauea volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Fans can purchase the tickets at cardinals.com/Hawaii.
"I'm from such a small place, we're all family," Wong said. "When they're hurting, I'm hurting as well. That's why it's such a big prerogative of mine to go out and help."
Wong plans to donate the proceeds to local nonprofit organizations working with the affected areas. The campaign raised more than $42,000 in its first 36 hours.
"It does feel helpless, but at the other end, I'm going to do something about it," Wong said. "For me, it's not just about helping people with food or clothing, it's about helping people build new houses. We don't have lava insurance. It's not a thing. What these guys are losing, that's a total loss. They don't have the money to go out and rebuild."
Kilaeua has erupted nearly continuously for decades. Geologists believe it's spewed intermittently for about 275,000 years, and they can not predict when the latest eruptions will stop. Worsening the damage are the threats of sulfuric acid, which the fissures send spraying into the atmosphere, and the unprecedented number of earthquakes. The island has reportedly endured an average of one earthquake per hour since a 6.9 magnitude quake struck May 4.
"That's rocking the whole day," Wong said. "To have that uneasy feeling the whole day, you can only imagine what they're going through."
Wearing a Hawaii-themed shirt in the Cardinals' clubhouse, Wong explained how living on Hawaii means learning to live with lava. The flows take on a mythical status in Hawaiian culture, the creation of the Goddess Pele, who Hawaiians believe birthed the islands. Children are taught to honor and respect it, to let it run uninterrupted. Only when it has stopped naturally do they have a "kuleana" -- a responsibility -- to remove it.
"The lava is always flowing. It's a part of us. That's something we spiritually feel is a part of our culture and who we are," Wong said. "The lava will flow where it will flow, and we'll clean it up as we have to. We only live there. The land is not ours."