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Powerful winds, high surf thrash East Hawaii

Updated: 
January 24, 2014 - 9:14am

Heavy winds and high surf played havoc with trees, utility lines and even a few boats in East Hawaii on Wednesday evening and into Thursday, keeping fire, police and utility responders busy.

Hawaii Island’s north-facing shores were under a high surf advisory Thursday, while West Hawaii and most of the other north- and west-facing shores in the state are under a high surf warning through 6 a.m. today.

“Even though we’re on the downswing right now as far as the high tide goes,” Darryl Oliveira, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, said Thursday afternoon, “there are still conditions that are treacherous and hazardous. … Hopefully we’ll be able to open them up again (Friday).”

Beaches closed Thursday included Kahaluu Beach Park, Laaloa Beach Park, Kekaha Kai State Park, Kua Bay and Hapuna Beach Park.

Very high winds began hitting East Hawaii around 5:20 p.m. Wednesday, Oliveira said, and continued through 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

“The fire department responded to 19 different wind-related events during that time, including some boats that lost their moorings in the Reed’s Bay and Baker’s Beach area,” Oliveira said.

Salvage workers were busy assessing the damage to an approximately 45-foot aluminum-hulled boat that had run aground off of Ocean View Drive on Thursday about noon. A strong odor of diesel fuel hung in the air as onlookers took in the scene. Behind it, a smaller sailboat that was mostly submerged rolled back and forth in the surf. An employee with the the state fisheries department was on hand to observe and try to ascertain whether any damage had been done to coral and other marine life.

A call to the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation seeking more information on the boats was not returned as of press time Thursday, but according to Oliveira, untethered vessels between Radio Bay and Reed’s Bay is a regular problem when the surf kicks up.

“That’s why we send out warnings before a weather event, asking people to secure their moorings,” he said. “This is historically an issue. Often they are tied to moorings that have been in place for quite some time. The anchor ropes and chains become weathered, and any significant wind and surge event can snap them.”

Oliveira said he was aware of three separate boats reported to have come loose from their moorings.

Meanwhile, utility crews were hard at work Thursday repairing downed lines. Mike Egan, whose girlfriend is a resident of the Hawaiian Beaches subdivision, called his neighborhood a “war zone.”

“There’s trees down all over the place,” he said. “Big albizia trees will take out three or four other trees when they fall, taking out power lines, cable lines, phone. One came down and landed on the front of a house. Everyone here’s been without power. We were without power for nearly 24 hours. … They’re telling us some people will be without power for two or three days.”

A large albizia also fell down on property alongside the Mauna Loa Shores condo in Keaukaha. The tree landed on a Dodge Durango and a Jeep Wrangler, causing extensive damage to both vehicles.

“My daughter’s car was parked between them, but luckily she had me move it when the wind started picking up around 7 p.m. (Wednesday),” said David Kapp. “It was really ferocious. Those albizia trees really are a menace. I think the complex had asked the county to take them down.”

A spokeswoman for Hawaii Electric Light Company said that crews had been kept busy ever since Wednesday morning when a tree fell on North Kulani Road in Mountain View. The outage caused by that tree affected 406 customers, Rhea Lee said.

Additional crews from Kona and Waimea were called in to assist the Hilo crews. Making repairs had been impeded by dangerous conditions, she added.

“Our priority is to keep our customers and our employees safe as we work as quickly as possible to safely restore power in all areas. In fact, our crews had to temporarily leave an area they were working in because trees continued to fall around them,” Lee said.

“Fallen trees and branches have downed poles and lines in various areas of Hawaii Island, including Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, Hamakua to Pepeekeo, Hilo, Mountain View, and lower Puna. Hawaii Electric Light personnel worked through the night to restore power and ensure public safety,” reads a release from HELCO.

“Hawaiian Beaches, Hawaiian Paradise Park and various locations in East Hawaii remain without power as crews continue to restore all customers as quickly and safely as possible.”

The release reminded the public to avoid approaching or touching fallen or low-hanging power lines, equipment, or anything they may be in contact with.

“A seemingly harmless wire may still be energized,” the release stated.

HELCO customers may call 969-6666 to report power outages and downed power lines. Other tips and safety information is available at hawaiielectriclight.com.

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