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Windward Big Island areas soaked, buffeted by Iselle

Updated: 
August 8, 2014 - 9:23pm

Government and utility crews came out in force Friday to clean up the fallen trees and power lines left in the wake of a weakened Hurricane Iselle.

Hawaii County had more than 200 Parks and Recreation and Public Works employees on the road picking up the pieces left after the storm had passed through much of the island Friday afternoon, Mayor Billy Kenoi said. He had no reports of serious injuries related to the storm, he added.

The National Weather Service lifted the tropical storm warning Friday afternoon.

“We are asking people to bear with us,” Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said Friday morning. “We are making every effort to restore power with HELCO and to clear roadways. It’s just gonna take a little bit of time. Resources are being dispatched in every direction to try to address the islandwide impact.”

Hurricane Iselle weakened to a tropical storm as it 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. Hawaii Electric Light Co. Administration Manager Rhea Lee said the storm brought down transmission lines from Hamakua Energy Partners and Puna Geothermal Venture.

Storm conditions continued in Ka‘u and Hamakua as of a 9 a.m. update by Hawaii County Civil Defense.

River conditions on the Big Island are high and others are rising, Mike Cantin with the National Weather Service said early Friday.

“We hope folks will stay in place through the day,” Cantin said. “By tomorrow conditions should improve dramatically.”

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.

More than 1,200 people took advantage of the Big Island’s 11 hurricane shelters overnight. Shelters stayed open in Kailua-Kona, Ka‘u and Keaau Friday afternoon.

“We were very impressed and appreciative of everyone’s response to our request to be prepared,” Kenoi said, adding the way Hawaii Island residents acted was “really remarkable.”

Despite the long gas lines and trips to buy staples, “people got settled pretty quickly,” he said.

And people stayed home Thursday night and Friday morning.

“We were doing shoreline surveys and nobody was on the roads,” Kenoi said. “We were very impressed. That allows our crews to respond to the most important emergencies.”

Kailua-Kona was largely spared the effects of the storm. That was because of the southward shift in the storm track. Kenoi said he has been avoiding speculation on what caused the shift. Big Island residents spent Friday discussing whether Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea played a role, similar to the popular belief that the mountains will prevent any hurricane from making landfall on the island.

“It’s way too much speculation,” Kenoi said, adding county officials “can only make predictions on the facts. We just follow the National Weather Service.”

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.

Kohala Mountain Road remained closed because of downed trees. Highway 132 at Nanawale, Highway 11 between the 53 and 63 mile markers from Kawa Flats to Naalehu also remained closed in the wake of the storm.

Iselle 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.

Stephens Media Hawaii reporter John Burnett contributed to this report.