Puna better prepared for disaster one year after Iselle

Puna better prepared for disaster one year after Iselle
Published: Aug. 7, 2015 at 12:08 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 7, 2015 at 12:27 AM HST
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PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - A year after Iselle slammed into lower Puna on Hawai'i Island, signs of the storm's impact are still prevalent in communities across the district.

Neighborhoods where Iselle hit the hardest have been slow to recover.

"We haven't completely healed and it's going to take some time and just the threat of the Albizia trees is a constant reminder of the challenges we're going to face," said Hawai'i County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira.

FEMA aid covered county repairs, but not individuals' homes.

"I tell you if it wasn't for Habitat, I don't know what I would've done. It was a god send I tell you," explained June Kantruss, who had no home owner's insurance but at least $15,000 in damages to her home after several trees smashed through her roof and destroyed her water catchment tank.

Hawai'i Island United Way stepped in to fill the void distributing $560,000 in recovery efforts. Through partnerships like Habitat for Humanity, homes that met qualifications for assistance have been rebuilt.

"When we walk away everything is functioning. The electricity is working, the plumbing is working and people can actually take hot showers," said Mark Saito, the Construction Supervisor of Habitat for Humanity West Hawai'i.

In the aftermath of Iselle, officials say one of the biggest challenges was food distribution to families who were without electricity, many of them trapped inside their homes -- whic is why "Bodacious Women" established a food pantry at Nanawale Estates that in an emergency can assist up to 300 households for 10 days.

"During Hurricane Iselle, we didn't have anywhere to store many of the donations, but we are now the hub for upper and lower Puna subdivisions," described Ronnette Gonsalves, one of the "Bodacious Women" Food Pantry founders. The volunteer organization oversaw fourteen days of emergency food relief after Iselle made landfall.

Two Matson containers were donated to the organization. One is filled with non-perishable foods and the other will be used to collect emergency supplies, like generators, propane stoves and first-aid kits.

"The community in general has become more resilient and has more resources that are located at the neighborhood level. One of the things we saw was that assistance and help has to come to the neighborhood itself. People were not exactly mobile. There may not have been helping organizations in the area, so we had to create a platform where a community such as Nanawale could sustain and help itself to be more self sufficient during any kind of future disaster," explained Bettye Williams, President of Hawai'i Island United Way.

Iselle is only the second tropical storm on record to directly hit Hawai'i Island. It made landfall Friday, August 8 about five miles east of Pahala, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph.

Trees were toppled and roads were blocked in some areas for days. At one point, 25,000 HELCO customers were without power.

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