Massive Iselle storm surge, rising tides ravage Kapoho neighborhood

Massive Iselle storm surge, rising tides ravage Kapoho neighborhood

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Miles and miles of downed power lines leading into their beach community has Kapoho residents preparing for several more weeks without power. Roadways into the coastal neighborhood is finally clear of trees and debris, but the folks who live there say there's still a lot of clean up to do.

While a majority of the significant destruction caused by Iselle across Puna is the result of massive albizia trees toppling down in the hurricane force gusts and winds -- in Kapoho and Vacation Land, the damage was caused by rising tides and massive storm surge.

"Once the water went in from the first floor it was really hard to get out, we had to abandon the house as soon as possible. Then we saw electrical lines on the ground, it was scary. We didn't expect it all to happen so fast," described Keala Ohia, who was staying in an oceanfront home when Iselle barreled through.

At it's worst, residents reported Iselle storm surge as high as four feet and powerful enough to push a Waiopae Road home.

"This is the southwest corner of the foundation of this house, which has been shifted about 70 or 80 feet over the top of the septic system and is now sitting on top of the alkaline pond behind the house," said Chris Biltoft, who owns a home in Kapoho-Vacation Land.

One week after Iselle slammed the area, those who experienced the storm's force are still shaken up.

"It was real distressful because we had no way in and no way out and no communication at all," Greg Braun, the current president of the vacation rental association in Kapoho.

Up and down the coastal community, residents are adjusting to a life without power and, in many cases, running water as they assess the damage to their homes.

"The wind came first, blew out windows and lifted and twisted the roof. That weakened the lower block structure and then the waves came and dealt a knock out punch," described Kirk Flanders, who owns two houses in the area and says he knows he's in for a fight with his insurance company but is relieved the wreckage wasn't worse.

"Ironically, I just put a new roof on three weeks ago. If I hadn't that wind would've probably ripped the roof off," said Flanders.

Neighbors say they're also extremely thankful no one was seriously injured.

"There was one person that had a scare -- he's on the oceanfront. He has a contained stairway that goes up and he had his door blocked with tool boxes and different things -- when he heard those shifting he went down to see what happened and the door blew open with waves and that second wave came and knocked him back up the stairs," said Braun, adding the man only suffered a few scratches and bruises.

Clean-up is slow and tedious work. Biltoft has been canvassing the area and collecting hazardous waste from the ponds and shoreline.

"There are very few of us to take care of a large area and that is the problem and we really desperately need help from some agency that can come in with the right equipment and protection and so forth to take care of this problem. This is more than we as individuals here can deal with," said Biltoft.

John Sullivan found his stairwell lying more than 50 yards away on the road in front of his neighbors house. Folks have to climb a ladder now to get to his front door and he's using a bucket to hoist what he needs inside.

When asked how devastating the storm was, Sullivan said, "Extremely devastating. It just flattened a lot of the old homes -- just dumped them down flat on the ground," Sullivan said, adding if another hurricane heads this way he plans to pray. "Pray a lot more because I can't do much more."

Officials say the only way to ensure the area gets the federal aid and assistance it needs is if all individuals who are impacted by Iselle file damage reports. They've set up Disaster Assistance Recovery Centers at the Pahoa Community Center, which is open Thursday, August 14 and Friday, August 15 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday, August 16 and Sunday, August 17 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Mountain View Gym.

Officials say state and county agencies, along with not-for-profit, non-governmental agencies, will also be there to provide information on available services. According to Hawai'i Island Mayor Billy Kenoi, the DARCs will help the Hawai'i State Emergency Management Agency and the County of Hawai'i evaluate whether the criteria for a federal disaster declaration has been met.

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