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Iselle wallops East Hawaii

Updated: 
August 9, 2014 - 5:53am

Tropical Storm Iselle didn’t hit the Big Island with hurricane force, but it did make its presence felt with downed trees and electrical lines that resulted in power outages, water restrictions and road closures.

“The emphasis is on trying to open the roads that have debris and trees on them. A lot of this is in Puna,” Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said Friday afternoon.

As of press time, Kapoho was all but cut off from the outside world, with Highway 132 closed at Nanawale Estates and Highway 137 impassable. Trees, mainly albizias, felled by Iselle’s winds are to blame for the road closures.

“We found out from the helicopter overflight that we have some significant structural damages to homes in the Kapoho area. So an effort is being made to gain access, because access is one of the problems with the trees and other debris on the roads, just trying to get down to Kapoho,” Oliveira said. “We have gotten assistance and resources from the National Guard. They’re going to be tasked with trying to gain access to Kapoho and trying to clean the roads down there so we can get other resources in to do damage assessments and see if these people need any kind of aid or assistance as far as living accommodations down there.

“We do have people in some of these outlying areas who are on home medications that may be running out — oxygen and things like that. So the Police Department is coordinating with Public Works on getting access to address the critical needs that some of these people have.”

Also closed were Highway 19 at mile marker 38 in Hamakua, Highway 11 between mile markers 55 and 63 — Kawa Flats to Naalehu, and Kohala Mountain Road between Waiaku Bridge and Hawi.

Hawaii Electric Light Co. reported about 15,000 customers still without service, in, as Oliveira put it, “various areas around the island but most of it in East Hawaii.”

In a written statement Friday afternoon, HELCO spokeswoman Rhea Lee said the utility was unable to take generation from Hamakua Energy Partners and Puna Geothermal Venture and asked customers to conserve energy.

“Crews are working to repair damage to the transmission lines but the damage is extensive in several areas. In particular, there is extensive damage to lines in the lower Puna area and restoration could take some time,” she said. The company started Friday what it called in a Civil Defense message “a rotating power interruption program,” more commonly known as “rolling blackouts,” to conserve power.

At the height of the storm, about 25,000 customers — about 30 percent of the island — were without power.

Oliveira said HELCO is trying to get power “restored to some sort of normalcy within a week.”

“I think they’re gonna try to make it much less than that,” he said. “Without power, you may not have water because you’ve got a catchment with a pump, so I know they’re sensitive of the impact of the community and they’re trying to get the power back on.”

HELCO said it will bring in crews from Oahu and possibly Maui to help with power restoration.

Electrical generation shortfalls have also caused low water tank levels in Pahoa and Laupahoehoe. That’s caused the Department of Water Supply to urge customers from Pahoa to Kapoho, Makuu Ag Lots, Papaaloa, Laupahoehoe, and Waipunalei area to cut daily water usage by 25 percent.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was closed Friday, but in a written statement, Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando stated the park would try to reopen today.

According to Young Brothers, a Hilo-bound cargo barge was forced to ride out the storm at sea. In a written statement, the interisland shipping company said it hoped the barge could dock at the Port of Hilo and unload Friday evening.

“I haven’t spoken to the harbormaster but based on a conversation this morning during our briefing, the harbor is open,” Oliveira said. “The dock itself and the ground portion of the pier is operational. But they were awaiting the (Army) Corps of Engineers doing an assessment on the shipping lanes themselves. But they felt … they would be receiving the barges back on schedule.”

Most of the emergency shelters set up by the Hawaii Red Cross were closed Friday, according to Barney Sheffield, the agency’s Big Island disaster coordinator. It appears the shelter at Keaau High School will still be operational today.

Sheffield also said police recovered the Red Cross’ Ford F-150 pickup truck stolen from its Ululani Street office.

“It’s got some silver spray paint over the Red Cross emblem and all across the license plates,” he said. “There’s one hole in it and I’m gonna have it repaired, hopefully within the next couple of weeks.”

Oliveira believes that after access is gained to areas isolated by felled trees and aerial surveys are completed, “we’ll be surprised by how much damage there is, especially given that here in Hilo and other places, it didn’t appear to be that bad.”

For Oliveira and his team of emergency responders and community volunteers, it’s likely to be a long weekend he said “comes with the territory.” They were hard at work late Friday afternoon tracking Hurricane Julio.

“Julio, we’re hoping, doesn’t add to or exacerbate what we’ve already been through. We’ll be watching that and monitoring very closely, hoping that it pulls north and spares us,” Oliveira said.

As for Iselle: “I think it’s a good reminder that we’re not actually immune from the effects from the hurricane. It’s proven from this event it’s possible, it’s even probable that we’re going to be get hit by a hurricane.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.