PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawai'i Island Mayor Billy Kenoi wants the residents of Puna to know there is an army of strategic and passionate people working around the clock to restore services in the areas hit hardest by Iselle.
"Tough times don't last but tough people and tough communities do and Puna is made up of tough people. It's a strong community," said Mayor Kenoi.
Mayor Kenoi -- who was born, raised and still lives here in the Puna district -- says no one is more committed to ensuring the people who live here get back on their feet than he and his team is.
With the roar of chainsaws behind him as utility crews worked in the Hawaiian Paradise Park neighborhood, Mayor Kenoi described the effort to get power back up across Puna as a "full-court press" involving more than 250 people from all over the state and more on the way.
"Yes, we have some challenges in restoring electricity and getting people back online with water and supplies that they need to restore normalcy, but it's been a couple days and we're making rapid recovery. Everybody is okay and that is the best feeling in the whole world. I have a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for that," said Kenoi.
Kenoi says aerial flight assessments reveal extensive progress. According to the mayor, FEMA eligibility will be determined by collecting damage reports from those who've been impacted.
"Houses that were seriously damaged are still seriously damaged but in terms of the amount of roads that were blocked, the amount of trees that were preventing people from accessing the roadways versus a couple days later -- there's a huge difference," Kenoi described.
As of yesterday, Kenoi confirms all major roads in and out of Puna district neighborhoods to the main highways have been cleared. He says his office's top priorities continue to be clean-up and public safety.
"What we did was tripled our daily police presence. We're usually eight officers, now we're up to 20 just here in Puna, every shift around the clock. We have 35 National Guardsmen moving around, patrolling the community as well in 13 vehicles. We're just making sure there's a presence so if somebody needs help they can get help," Kenoi said.
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.
"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. We're focused on our people, 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.
The Mayor confirms residents have the access they need to get to the polls, including the once impassable Kahakai Boulevard. The main roadway trough the Hawaiian Beaches neighborhood, one of the hardest hit communities, runs past Keonepoko Elementary School, where the election is currently scheduled to take place.
"I'll leave that up to them to decide when they're going to hold it or whether it's absentee or walk-in and on our end, in terms of taking care of our community -- it's just make sure everybody has access -- that we take away barriers and obstacles," Kenoi said.
Kenoi says buses will be running to get people who live in the area to the polls.
"The state elections, I leave the elections up to them and our job is just take care of our community," Kenoi said. "There's a lot of normalcy restored to Puna, but there's still a lot of people without power and electricity and that's who the focus is on."
Only voters who are assigned to the Hawaiian Paradise Community Center or Keonepoko Elementary School polling sites who did not vote by absentee ballot or at an early vote site will be allowed to vote on Friday from 7 a.m. til 6 p.m.
In the meantime, assistance centers are still open at community centers to provide residents with much-needed supplies. 32 tons of ice was flown in Wednesday by the National Guard.
"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 -- 'cause at the end of the day, you can fix stuff, you can put stuff back together but you cannot fix a loss of life," said Mayor Kenoi.
The following is the scheduled shuttle service for Friday, August 16:
HPP to Keonepoko Elementary School
Shower Drive (Hwy 130 - 22nd Ave.)
Kaloli Drive (Beach Road -29th Ave)
Paradise Drive (29th Ave -1st Ave)
Maku'u Drive (1st Ave-Hwy 130)
Keonepoko Elementary (Drop Off)
Hawaiian Beaches/Shores to Keonepoko Elementary School - Kahakai Blvd
Keonepoko Elementary (Drop Off)
Wa'a Wa'a to Keonepoko Elementary School
For the return on these, bus will wait for the passengers to complete their voting.
Keonepoko Elementary School to HPP
Keonepoko Elementary School to Hawaiian Beaches/Shores
10:15 & 11:00 am
For more information regarding shuttle service, please contact the Mass Transit Agency at 808-961-8744 or visit their website at www.heleonbus.org
Any questions regarding voting should be directed to the Office of the County Clerk- Elections Division at: 808-961-8277.