Since Tropical Storm Iselle hit East Hawaii with devastating force last week, social media and the coconut wireless have been abuzz with allegations of “looting” in Puna.
One comment on Facebook that has seen a lot of re-posting states: “HPP Residents!! There is a U-Haul Truck going around steal from people’s houses & there are also people posing as tree cutters going around ripping off from people’s houses too. STAY ALERT!!”
Calls and emails to Stephens Media Hawaii have also alleged widespread looting in Puna. One caller who left an anonymous message Wednesday said: “We’re now hearing all kinds of stories about some people renting U-Hauls and stealing from the people.”
And at least one Honolulu television news organization has referred to “reports of looting” in Puna, although no first-hand reports were provided.
Puna, especially Hawaiian Paradise Park, has garnered a reputation as a high-burglary, high-theft area over the past few years, which has probably lent more credibility to that kind of talk in ice and water distribution lines and on the Internet. But police say the “reports” are more likely exaggeration and rumor.
“We did a quick report this morning, just to show what we’re looking at prior to the storm, during the storm and now after the storm,” Sgt. Daylan Asuncion of Puna Patrol Division said Wednesday. “The six days prior to the storm, we had six burglary reports (and) six theft reports.
“Six days after the storm, we have seven burglary reports and 12 theft (reports). We have a total of six theft cases during the actual time of the storm. So it’s not very much of a difference.”
Asuncion said police are aware of the talk and social media postings making the rounds.
“I know people have been hearing there are reports of 40 looting cases. I don’t know where that information came from,” he said.
Asuncion said there is one report of a stolen generator.
“One generator,” he said. “And a generator is a hot item here, even without the storm. We got reports of stolen generators even prior to the storm.”
He said in addition to the generator, other items reported stolen include a lawn chair, fruit and two automobiles.
Asuncion said since the storm police have an increased patrol presence with help from the Hawaii Army National Guard and Air Force Reserve, as well as the Hilo Criminal Investigation Division, to bring the number of officers patrolling the district from the usual eight to about 20 at any given time.
“They sent some guys out here to help us, so we have a lot of presence out there,” he said.
Police Chief Harry Kubojiri said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of any credible reports of widespread pillaging in Puna.
“What our officers report are mostly people coming to the aid of their neighbors,” he said.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.