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Gov’t agencies, businesses, others help Puna residents still feeling effects of Iselle

Updated: 
August 15, 2014 - 6:37am

By 3 p.m. Thursday, 250 people had made their way through a Disaster Assistance and Recovery Center set up at the Pahoa Community Center.

Representatives of county, state and national agencies, including the state departments of Public Works and Human Services, as well as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army, were on-site to field questions and offer help for Puna residents impacted by Tropical Storm Iselle.

“Mostly, people have been asking for water, ice and food, which we’ve given them,” said state Civil Defense spokeswoman Jennifer Howlett. “They’ve also been asking for help with debris removal, which volunteers from All Hands (Volunteers) have been helping them with.”

At about 11 a.m., Safeway Inc. delivered a truckload of ice from Oahu — 18 pallets totaling 32,400 pounds — said Safeway Hawaii General Manager George Glukfeld.

“Our stores have also been making small donations. We saw this was the item most needed by the community, mostly to keep their food from spoiling, and we’re just happy to be out here helping where it’s needed,” he said.

As the day wore on, vehicles continued to pull up next to the truck, located at the rear of the Pahoa community pool parking lot, and employees handed over the bags to residents.

Across the lot, Steve Aquilina sat in the shade of the pool bathroom and shower facilities, waiting for his wife to finish a swim and a shower. Others sat in the area, waiting for their phones and mobile devices to charge at various outlets.

“I live down at the bottom of Nanawale, and they had our roads cleared out by Tuesday,” he said. “Right now, we have nothing. No water, no electricity.”

Aquilina said he already made several trips to the Starbucks in Hilo to connect to the Internet and make phone calls to friends and family to let them know he and his wife were safe.

“It takes about five to six days to get acclimated, but we’re doing OK. You learn how to get by. We’ve learned exactly how much water it takes to refill the toilet, for instance,” he said with a laugh.

Aquilina said he had one important tip he could share with the approximately 6,300 Hawaii Island residents who remain without power.

“Patience is vital. Frustration only causes more frustration around you,” he said.

Others at the assistance center weren’t quite as confident.

A disabled resident of Hawaiian Shores, Janice Mancini, said she ran out of food, and she hadn’t been able to get her hands on important information as the recovery continues.

“We got our power back on last night, thank God,” she said. “I just got out of the hospital on Monday, and I’m not sure what’s going on, or what we’re supposed to do. Communication is impossible, and information hasn’t been available.”

The assistance center in Pahoa will open again from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today. It will then move to the Mountain View Gym during the same hours on Saturday and Sunday.

Meanwhile, Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives are expected to begin today a preliminary damage assessment process that must be completed before President Barack Obama can declare a major disaster and free up federal relief funding.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.