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HELCO working to restore power to 9,000-plus Big Island customers

August 9, 2014 - 10:48am

Hawaii County Department of Public Works crews and Hawaii Electric Light Co. crews are continuing to clear roadways and to restore power to areas of East Hawaii. Some 9,200 customers remained without power early Saturday.

It is unknown when all power will be restored and all roadways will be reopened, according to Civil Defense. Residents are advised to drive with caution as crews are working on and along many roadways.

The utility is advising customers who are currently out of power to prepare for the extended outages, which could last through the weekend and in some cases, particularly the lower Puna area, much longer.

“We’re working into the night to continue restoring customers, but given the potential for some to be out of power for a very long time, we wanted to give folks as much time as possible to plan. We know what a hardship it is for our customers to be out of power for so long. We sincerely apologize and want to assure them we are doing everything we can to restore service as quickly as is safely possible,” said Jay Ignacio, president of HELCO. “In addition to our crews who have been working around the clock, we’re bringing in additional crews from Oahu and possibly Maui to mobilize the most resources possible.”

At the height of the storm, about 25,000 – or 30 percent — of all Hawaii Island customers lost power. As of 5 p.m. Friday, an estimated 15,000 customers remained without power in the following areas: Most Puna, Kalopa to Paauilo, Kulani and surrounding areas, and Pahala and the surrounding areas.

To aid with food preservation and weather or rain protection an ice and tarp pick-up site will be operated from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Pahoa Fire Station located on Highway 130, according to Civil Defense. Residents wishing to pick up ice to are asked to bring a container and the ice is to be used for essential food preservation only. Supplies will be limited, however, additional ice and tarp pickups and points of distribution will be established shortly.

Tropical Storm Iselle made landfall near Pahala at 2:30 a.m. Friday, buffeting windward areas with 50 mph winds and drenching Puna with 7 inches of rain. Streams swelled, downed trees blocked roads and power was knocked out to tens of thousands of customers along the east side of the island, where rainfall totalled 5 to 7 inches.

The Saddle Road quarry and Kulani gauges measured 14 inches, Glenwood had 13.9, and 12 inches fell in Hakalau. Hilo received 3.5 inches of rain.

The storm continued to pack 40 mph winds as it moved west-northwest about 230 miles west-southwest of Kailua-Kona Friday evening.

More than 1,200 people took advantage of the Big Island’s 11 hurricane shelters overnight. Shelters stayed open in Laupahoehoe, Honokaa, Ka’u and Pahoa Friday morning. Residents were allowed to return home in all areas except Ka’u and Hamakua, where storm conditions continued Friday morning, according to a Civil Defense update.

Highway 132 at Nanawale and Highway 11 between the 53 and 63 mile markers from Kawa Flats to Naalehu also remained closed in the wake of the storm Friday evening.

Many of the subdivisions in the lower Puna area, including Hawaiian Paradise Park, Hawaiian Beaches, Kapoho, Opihikao, Pohoiki, and Kalapana have sustained extensive tree toppling leaving limited access.

The storm lost speed as it approached and an 11th hour shift in the track took the center of the system over the southern portion of the island.

Kailua-Kona was largely spared the effects of the storm. That was due to the southward shift in the storm track, Lau said. At Konawaena

Dozens of people, many tourists, remained at the Kealakehe High School shelter Friday morning.

Red Cross volunteers Cheryl King and Stephanie Schroeder said almost 200 people stayed there overnight, and about half had left by 9 a.m., although no official all clear had been sounded.

When people say they’re leaving, King said the volunteers can’t stop them, “but we can’t advise it,” she said.

King and Schroeder were full of praise for the Kona Seaside Hotel and its employees, who provided breakfast for the entire shelter, and offered whatever extra amenities it had for evacuees after its guests were taken care of.

The night passed smoothly, but with one major frustration, King said.

“We had been waiting for the hurricane to strike us,” she said, adding they were watching local television coverage. “The news station only talked about Hilo.”

And then, coverage began to focus on Maui and Oahu. No one was talking about Kona, King said.

“What about us,” she said she and others at the shelter asked themselves. “We’re still waiting for a hurricane.”

The sun was shining outside the gym, where Brandi Tabarejo, a Kailua-Kona resident, was headed back to Uncle Billy’s Kona Bay Hotel, where she works. She spent Thursday night at the school with several hotel guests.

“It was a really long (night),” Tabarejo said. “It rained a nice, constant rain. … I’ve been through three evacuations for the tsunamis. I’m kind of used to it.”

At a shelter at Konawaena High School, some 84 people had headed home early Friday morning. Red Cross shelter manager Cathy Lewis reported a quiet night.

“We expected to wake up to gusts of wind and it didn’t happen,” Lewis said.

“We hope Julio just fizzles out,” she added.