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Iselle damaged an estimated 148 Big Island homes

August 12, 2014 - 11:02am

As clean-up and power restoration efforts continue in the wake of Tropical Storm Iselle, assessment of the cyclone’s damage, especially in Puna, has just begun, according to the county.

“Representatives from the Office and Housing and Community Development have gone out with the National Guard and they did the preliminary assessment,” Kevin Dayton, a spokesman for Mayor Billy Kenoi, said Monday afternoon. “Two-hundred-sixty-eight damage reports have come back. There were 148 homes with some degree of damage, four businesses, and 116 reports of infrastructure damage. Those could be utility poles, damaged roads, downed power lines, any of that. This is preliminary; it’s not comprehensive. That’s not complete; obviously there’s way more than that. But that’s what’s been documented at this point.”

Asked about monetary damage estimates, Dayton replied: “I know there’s no comprehensive dollar calculation for the damage yet.”

Dayton said damaged homes in Kapoho Vacationland subdivision, and to a lesser extent, Pohoiki, are mostly due to ocean storm surge, while most of the structural damage reported elsewhere in lower Puna was caused by trees toppling onto buildings.

“We also know there’s a whole lot of scrap metal coming into the transfer stations,” he said. “People are basically picking up debris that was ripped off their roof to one degree or another and depositing it in the scrap metal bins. We know a lot of damage was done.”

Dayton said the preliminary damage assessment report has been forwarded to state Civil Defense. Gov. Neil Abercrombie issued an emergency disaster declaration last week prior to the storm’s arrival.

Insurance companies are also starting to do their own calculations. Nelson Fukuhara, a State Farm agent in Hilo, said his company’s so-called “storm troopers” from Honolulu and the mainland have been on island since Saturday.

“We have claims adjusters who take care of catastrophic storms,” he said. “They follow storms all over the country. They’re here now; I don’t know how many of them. But they’re out in the field, taking care of our claims as we speak.”

Fukuhara said the power and phone outages in Puna has made it difficult to contact clients.

“If our policyholders have claims, they should contact us,” he said. “There’s no way we can contact those who don’t have electricity or phone service.”

The Hawaii Red Cross has opened a shelter at the Pahoa Community Center to support individuals and families displaced by the storm. Residents needing to stay in the shelter will be provided with meals and a cot to sleep on and will also be able to take a shower and charge their phones at any time of the day.

From 10 a.m.-6 p.m. today, Red Cross volunteers will be distributing meals as well as batteries, water, work gloves, trash bags, and tarps at the Pahoa Community Center parking lot. Distribution of the same items will take place between 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Puna Covenant Church, 16-647 Old Volcano Rd. in Keaau.

The county will once again distribute ice, water and other supplies at community assistance centers between noon-4 p.m. Those centers are at Kalani Oceanside Retreat, aka Kalani Honua, and the community centers in Leilani Estates, Nanawale Estates and Hawaiian Shores.

Water restriction remains in effect for Kalapana water system customers only. Due to lack of electrical power in this area, water hauling for this system continues. Until further notice, water supply customers in Kalapana are requested to continue restricting water needs to essential use only.

The previous water restriction is now downgraded to conservation for upper Puna, Kaiwiki, and Hamakua district customers, which means customers are requested to reduce normal water use by 10 percent. As power restoration in these areas continue, the water systems will replenish faster with conservation efforts, the Department of Water Supply said.

Hawaii Electric Light Co. spokesman Darren Pai said Monday the utility is “essentially tripling our workforce and doing everything we can to restore power as quickly as possible” to those who are still without electricity. He said that includes crews from Hawaiian Electric on Oahu and mainland crews. He added that in addition to line crews, there are tree trimmers and specialized construction crews, as well, in case excavation is needed to install new poles.

As of Sunday, about 8,100 were still without power, mostly in Puna, but also elsewhere. Asked Monday afternoon for an updated number, Pai responded, “We’re restoring customers in pockets, so it’s kind of fluid right now.”

“We’ve had crews today in Paauilo Mauka, Orchidland, Fern Acres and Ainaloa,” he said. “We understand there are some areas that folks have been frustrated about for a long time. … Now that we’ve stabilized the island’s transmission system, which is kind of the backbone of the whole grid, we’re able to focus in these different neighborhoods and communities. So we’re going into areas where we can bring back the largest number of people the most quickly and trying to make progress that way.

“You know, there are some areas where we’re hoping to get into … (today). We’re looking at Hawaiian Beaches and the remaining portions of Hawaiian Paradise Park. But there’s some areas where the damage is really extensive and we do want to inform customers (who are still without power) they may be out going into next week and maybe even longer, depending on the severity of the damage.”

When asked where those areas are, Pai didn’t specify.

“We’re still trying to make those assessments,” he said.

The Department of Human Services said in a written statement Monday beneficiaries of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps may request reimbursement for the actual dollar value of food destroyed by storm related power outages. The reimbursement cannot exceed the household’s current monthly allotment.

The deadline is Aug. 20 and there are a number of steps recipients must take to be reimbursed. For details, visit the HTH website item “Spoilage reimbursement for SNAP beneficiaries affected by Iselle.”

For more information, call (808) 586-5720.

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