PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Six days after Iselle destroyed homes and crippled access to roadways in the Puna district, Gov. Neil Abercrombie arrived on Hawaii island Wednesday to view the damage up close for the first time.
"What I saw was the result of all the work that's been going on 24/7 by the National Guard, by the county workers, by the state workers, by the volunteers -- people coming from Hilo and all over -- the FEMA folks and everybody else doing assessments and that's why I'm here today," said the governor. "We want to make -- you can't make your application for further federal assistance until you're able to do an accurate assessment and because everything that the HELCO workers and everybody that I've mentioned, including folks locally helping one another out -- all the aloha that's been out there -- we've been able to make, I think, a very accurate assessment so that we can make the right kind of application."
When asked if he was going to ask the president for for an official disaster declaration, Gov. Abercrombie responded, "I'm going to file a correct application because as you know there's a couple more storms developing out there. We don't know the degree or extent to which they may develop -- from Tropical Storms into Hurricanes -- I don't want to get in a situation where we lose credibility with FEMA by not zeroing in on exactly what we need to do," Abercrombie said.
The governor's first stop was Nanawale Community Center -- one of several county assistance distribution points that benefited from the 32 tons of ice flown in by the National Guard Wednesday.
"I'm just very, very grateful that we are able to zero in on people who need assistance and be able to provide immediate response and I think ultimate recovery to them here," Abercrombie said. "Individual circumstances are very, very grim but I'm sure we're all very grateful that in terms of casualties that we've come through this first phase of a storm season in good order."
Abercrombie says the decision to hold a special election for voters in the two Puna polling places that were closed during the primary election because of Hurricane Iselle was out of his hands. The Governor says the law provides up to 21 days to have an election, but the rules say it has to be held within seven days unless there are compelling circumstances to the contrary.
"The last thing anybody wants in a democracy like the United States and certainly in Hawaii is for the Executive to be able to decide whether or not to hold an election. I might have wanted it postponed last Saturday myself, if that was the case," Abercrombie said laughing. "The serious part is the elections officer feels that while there may be some inconveniences, some difficulties, some challenges -- that the overriding -- I'm not speaking for him, but my interpretation of what's happening is -- that the overriding principal of having an election come to a conclusion as expeditiously as is possible is what's motivating him to designate the kind of election we're going to have," said the Governor.
While Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi won't weigh in on whether the special election should be taking place this week, he said his top priority and focus is on the thousands who still don't have electricity and the hundreds who are without running water.
"This is handled by state elections and when they say it's on -- our job is to make sure that it's fair and people can get there," said Kenoi. "But we're focused on our people. We're taking care of them, responding to their needs and concerns, answering the people's questions and reminding everybody that we're all in this together."
Kenoi said aerial flight assessments reveal extensive progress. He confirmed all major roads in and out of neighborhoods to the main highways have been cleared.
"This has been a complete team effort and we all got to remember that as challenging as Iselle was, it wasn't as difficult as it could've been. Every incident gives us an opportunity for lessons learned. Given this incident and our response, certainly we can learn from this -- strengthen our preparedness recovery system and the next time be even more well-prepared -- because at the end of the day, you can fix stuff, you can put stuff back together, but you cannot fix a loss of life," Kenoi said.