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Hawaii News

‘We were very fortunate’

    A couple checked out the heavy flow at Hilo’s Wai­naku River on Friday after Tropical Storm Iselle passed over Hawaii island.
    Hawaii Electric Light Co. crews Friday morning worked on a sheared pole next to Highway 130 near Aulii Street following Tropical Storm Iselle.
    Hilo’s Bayfront Park at the corner of Pauahi Street and Kamehameha Avenue was flooded Friday.
    Lurline Milare’s family and neighbors surveyed damage Friday after two trees crashed into Milare’s Pahoa home Thursday night, destroying the parlor.

HILO >> Tropical Storm Iselle threw trees into Hawaii island homes and left thousands of people without power Friday but also gave county officials the hope that they had been spared the worst of Iselle’s powerful punch.

Only a handful of homes — mostly on the eastern side of Hawaii island — were reported to have damage. And it could take weeks to tally up all of the costs from the first tropical storm in 22 years to reach island shores.

But as the sun came out Friday and the winds and rain subsided, Mayor Billy Kenoi stood in the county’s Civil Defense headquarters in Hilo, grateful that no one was reported hurt or worse — and there were no reports of major damage.

Even as Hurricane Julio churned more than 700 miles east of Hilo with Category 2-force winds of 105 mph, Kenoi allowed himself a moment to relax with the knowledge that Iselle had spared Hawaii island the kind of devastation left behind when Hurricane Iniki tore across Kauai in 1992.

Kenoi credited residents and visitors for heeding warnings to stay off roads and out of surf for helping to keep people safe.

"We’re just very appreciative that there was no loss of life or reports of serious injuries," Kenoi said. "We were very fortunate. I’ve said it before: I’ll take lucky over good every time."

However, Iselle certainly left its mark.

Several homeowners reported wind and tree damage to officials, including a roof that was torn off and windows that were blown out on a home in Hawaiian Paradise Park in Puna; a home that burned down in Hilo in what may have been a hurricane-related fire; a tree that fell into a house in the Hawaiian Acres subdivision; a roof that was blown off a home in Hilo; and a tree that fell on a carport and a car at Hawaiian Shores.

County spokesman Kevin Dayton emphasized that teams were still out looking for damage Friday and had not reported their findings.

"We still have assessment teams out in the field," Dayton said. "The damage assessment is incomplete."

Along Kahakai Boulevard in Pahoa, fallen albizia trees blocked traffic, and downed power lines intruded into residents’ yards.

Lurline Milare, who lives at Kahakai Boulevard and Ahi Street, was in her pajamas and had not even brushed her teeth when she anxiously arrived at her five-bedroom home at about 6:30 a.m. Friday to find two large trees had fallen on top of her roof, destroying the home’s parlor. Milare initially was "scared to death" when she saw the damage because one of her daughters and her 6-month-old grandchild were inside when the trees crashed into her house.

The mother of four said no one was hurt. And Milare could not help but feel blessed by all the help she received from neighbors and family members to clean up the mess.

"It’s so heartwarming and so touching because you don’t see things like that happen every day — people stopping and helping each other," Milare said as loved ones and strangers helped clean her yard of debris.  

She had no idea how much repairs will cost and plans to file an insurance claim.

Down the street on Kahakai Boulevard, Sid and Michelle Chacon on Friday were clearing away the wreckage of a fallen tree that crashed on their yellow-and-brown house the night before. The couple and their two children rode out Iselle at a friend’s house Thursday night and were shocked to arrive home Friday to see a large tree on their house.

"I’m distraught," Sid Chacon said. "We left and came back and found the tree had landed on our kid’s room. One of us could have been killed."

Flooding or fallen trees closed 16 Hawaii island highways and streets.

Some 21,900 Hawaii Electric Light Co. customers initially lost power in the storm. On Friday, HELCO repair crews continued to work to restore power to 17,200 customers and urged all customers to cut down on power consumption.

"During the storm many trees fell and knocked down power lines and poles," HELCO spokeswoman Rhea Lee said in a statement. "Critical transmission lines on the east side of the island are out of service and we are unable to take generation from Hamakua Energy Partners and Puna Geothermal Venture. This has created a generation shortage."

A broken water main along Pohakea Mauka Road also affected customers from Ho’o Kahua Road to Pa’auilo Mauka Road who had little to no water pressure, according to Department of Water Supply officials. And low water tank levels were reported in the Laupahoehoe water system in the Hamakua District, so some customers were asked to restrict water use to essential use only.

County parks that were shuttered Thursday remained closed Friday.

National parks on Hawaii island also were closed Friday, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail.

"The highways and roads are still unsafe, with downed trees, power lines and flash flooding," park Superintendent Cindy Orlando said in a statement. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, "the power is out and the phones are down. It is far safer for our employees and our visitors to stay off the roads."

But there were also plenty of signs that life for many on Hawaii island was already returning to normal.

Some 1,020 people and nearly two dozen pets crowded into 12 emergency evacuation shelters as Iselle approached Thursday.

Only three shelters — Kealakehe, Keaau and Kau high schools — remained open Friday.

"On a big island like this," Kenoi said, "you are going to have different impacts in different areas. But we were very fortunate."

Megan Moseley is a freelance journalist based on Hawaii island.

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