By Le’a Gleason
The aftermath of Hurricane Iselle has left many Hilo communities feeling thankful for minimal damage. Some Puna communities, however, say they are feeling Iselle’s effects in multiple ways that aren’t being recognized with relief efforts. Wai’Opae, or “Kapoho Vacationland” is one of the communities that was hit the hardest.
What soon became “tropical storm” Iselle was arguably a category 1 Hurricane when it touched down on the shores of the Kapoho tidepools Thursday evening. The storm brought high tides and strong winds that knocked down thousands of trees all over the Puna district and downed power poles and power lines.
In Wai’Opae specifically, a six-foot surge of water pushed over rock walls, washed away gravel and rocks, knocked over trees, and left at least six homes completely demolished. Strong winds knocked over massive trees covering the road. There was no way in or out of the subdivision until Saturday.
Sunday afternoon, the community association met with a group of residents to discuss a plan of action. Major concerns discussed were that the area lacks any communication methods. In Wai’Opae there is no electricity, running water, or cell phone service.
One resident claimed four of seven AT&T cell phone towers were down. Residents raised concern over how to communicate with authorities in the event of a medical emergency while phone service is down.
Another major concern discussed was pollution in the tide pools surrounding the homes. Residents say they saw sewer caps floating in the water and there was a possibility sewage lines had been ruptured. In addition, several large propane tanks are lodged at the bottom of one pond, and there is a large amount of paint and other hazardous chemicals that floated into other ponds. Dead fish, roofing, and miscellaneous belongings are floating in the water as well.
No conclusion was reached, as residents agreed they felt uncomfortable with the dangers of cleaning the ponds themselves, for health reasons.
Also discussed at the meeting was a high volume of strangers who have been attempting to enter the area. The community has started a round-the-clock watch to stop looters and said that several attempts by looters had already been made.
A follow-up meeting was scheduled for Monday at 4:30 p.m. In the meantime, residents were tasked with calling Harry Kim and contacting Civil defense, calling AT&T, contacting FEMA, and contacting local representatives for help.
Several residents referred to the media attention to the area as a “total media blackout”. According to them, few media representatives have been to the area.
The association president said he was “shocked” and felt that the community had been ignored by County of Hawaii officials, but thanked the County workers, military, and residents who had begun to help with clean-up.
At this time, there is no long-range plan in place to restore the Wai’Opae community.