BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two days after Hurricane Iselle made landfall on Hawai'i Island as a tropical storm, county officials say they've cleared and reopened all major roadways in the lower Puna area that were blocked by topples trees and downed power lines but HELCO confirms 8,100 customers are still without power.
The outages are mostly in the Puna District, but also in other areas on the east side of Hawai'i Island. Officials say one of their biggest obstacles to getting repairs completed has been access. It has been very difficult for crews to get around because of the enormous amount of fallen trees blocking roadways.
Civil Defense officials say a few internal subdivision roads in Hawaiian Paradise Park, Leilani Estates, Nanawale Estates may still be obstructed, but every neighborhood should have access to the main highway by Sunday evening.
Unfortunately, HELCO officials say customers who are still without power at this time should expect an extended outage into next week and, in some cases, much longer.
"There was significant damage to the island from Iselle there was a lot of damage to the main transmission system which is really the backbone of the entire electric grid on the island. So the first thing we had to do was make those repairs because without that we weren't stability of the overall grid," sais Hawai'i Electric Light spokesperson Darren Pai.
Clifford Javellana has been without power since Iselle made landfall, but he says he understands HELCO is working as hard as they can. He also says he has no complaints and is instead filled with gratitude because his home was miraculously spared any damage, despite dozens of enormous trees toppling around his property.
HELCO crews have been working around the clock, and their effort hasn't gone without notice from someone who left a sign of gratitude along the road into Kapoho. The expression of appreciation is in stark contrast of reports HELCO street crews have encountered some hostility from understandably frustrated residents who are desperate to get their power back on. The situation has been so tense all crews were sent out with police escorts Saturday.
"We know this is a very difficult time to be without power for such a long period so we want to show them we're working as quickly as we can to restore power while making sure we do it safely," Pai said.
HELCO officials are opening a Customer Information Center at the Hawaiian Shores Community Center in Hawaiian Beaches Monday, August 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to answer questions from the public, provide status updates and offer a free charging station.
Meanwhile, the County-sponsored ice and water distribution centers that were set-up at Pahoa High School and Mountain View gyms are now closed. Officials say they saw a significant drop off in need once roads became passable and residents were able to once again drive into Hilo town.
30,000 pounds of ice was flown into the Puna area and quickly distributed Sunday morning. Civil Defense officials say since Friday a total of 41,000 pounds of ice, 37,000 one-liter bottles of water and an additional 400 cases of water have been provided to people in need.
On the way into Hawaiian Beaches, the Takamine family and their friends have set up a pop-up tent with tables where they're serving free hot meals. They live in Hilo and say they weren't affected by the hurricane but couldn't stand by and do nothing.
"We have power. We can cook. It's our friends and family out here and they don't have much. We didn't have chainsaws -- we couldn't cut trees down, but we could cook," said Christine Takamine, who helped organize the effort.
Kelton Chang, a member of the Hilo Jaycees, also organized ice distribution. He asked folks to fill gallon or liter sized recyclable bottles with water and freeze them since ice is nearly impossible to find in stores.
"These people need it, they got to have the help and some of them can't even get here -- we have to go to them. I just wanted to make a difference in the community because this is our community and we got to be an 'ohana," Chang said.
Due to a lack of electrical power, the Department of Water Supply is hauling water to Paauilo, Kalapana, and upper Ola'a-Mountain View. Consumers are requested to continue restricted water use. Officials are asking anyone with emergency water concerns to call 808-961-8379.
All DOE public schools are back in session Monday, August 11. However, Hawaii News Now has learned Nawahi charter & Waiakea High School will not be open. There are unconfirmed reports other charter school students have been told not to return to campus, but officials say it's best for parents to check with their school administrators directly.