EXCLUSIVE: Puna district flyover with Big Island Mayor one week after Iselle

EXCLUSIVE: Puna district flyover with Big Island Mayor one week after Iselle ( Sunrise 7 a.m.)
Aerial shot of Puna
Aerial shot of Puna
Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi
Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Governor Neil Abercrombie has extended a state of emergency proclamation, which was originally set to expire Friday, through October 17. State officials say the additional time allows individuals who've been impacted by Iselle an adequate window to file the damage reports necessary to qualify for aid.

County officials say those reports are critical to ensuring the Puna district gets the federal assistance it needs, which is why they've set up a Disaster Assistance Recovery Center.

The site at the Pahoa Community Center, which is also the location of the Red Cross emergency shelter, was bustling Thursday with multiple agencies, non-profits and case managers who are all working to ensure folks who need help get the help they deserve. County officials say one of the best ways to identify that need is with the flyovers they're doing of the Puna area.

One week after Iselle made landfall, Hawaii News Now was invited along for an aerial assessment with Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi as he flew over some of the hardest hit neighborhoods. The flight was Mayor Billy Kenoi's third aerial assessment. His first was on Saturday in the hours after Iselle slammed the Puna district.

"We see a tremendous difference being made and that's because everybody's putting maximum effort, maximum resources. We know people can get out, we know people can access services, if there's programs available they can access that. It looks definitely a lot better than it looked a few days ago and that's just credit to the many people out there working really hard," said Mayor Kenoi.

Mayor Kenoi says these flyovers are critical in helping officials get help where it's most-needed.

"Puna is such a large area geographically, we want to be able to make sure that we get a real good assessment of strategic allocation of our manpower personnel and resources," said Kenoi. "We saw not only the major roads in subdivisions, but all of the side roads as well being cleared and having access restored."

Now that county officials say every Puna resident can travel through their neighborhoods, Mayor Kenoi is urging those who need help to head to the county's disaster assistance recovery center.

"The best way to get relief reimbursements and compensation for folks is to have documentation and verification and so we're there to provide assistance to folks who need that assistance who need help filling out their forms or who need help doing their damage assessment. Whether it's an individual residence or commercial business or agriculture farm, we want to make sure that everybody who needs help is eligible for help gets the help they need and deserve," Kenoi said.

Mayor Kenoi says the roadway access that has been restored is also critical to the county's responsibility to ensure voters can get to the polls for Friday's special election.

"With the election being held, we make sure that everybody who wants to vote can vote. That's why the aerial assessment today, we went over the entire precinct area -- Hawaiian Beaches, Hawaiian Shores to Keonepoko Elementary -- and you can see every road cleared and completely accessible. In Paradise Park, road crews are out there -- HELCO crews are out there and were in Hawaiian Beaches, too -- you could see again, all the roads being accessible. We'll be having HeleOn buses available. They'll be continuously operating during the time the polls are open and if we get a call at Civil Defense that somebody needs help, we'll make sure that everybody's right to cast their vote, if they want to cast their vote is available to them."

While Mayor Kenoi would not weigh-in on whether the special election should be taking place this week Friday -- he did say his focus is on the thousands who still don't have electricity and the hundreds who are without running water. Kenoi says he understands some people are upset and want to see more progress, but he says the majority of the residents he's encountered have inspired him with their sense of unity and resilience.

"People are angry and frustrated and I completely accept that, I would be too if I was without power for a week, but yesterday I walked through Pahoa town and went to the relief centers and I walked back into the EOC and my first words were, 'I just witnessed the best of humanity'," Mayor Kenoi said, sharing his experience of meeting people who've driven all the way from Kona to deliver food and ice and the man from Laupahoehoe who has brought his generator to an assistance distribution center everyday so that folks can charge whatever they need. "What you felt was just this enormous compassion, caring love, and aloha," said Kenoi.

Disaster Assistance and Recovery Centers (DARCs) are open Friday, August 15 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Pahoa Community Center 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. Mayor Kenoi says 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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