For well more than 24 hours, residents within neighborhoods in Kapoho said they felt as if they were trapped on a remote island unto themselves.
Miles of roads in all directions had been covered in trees, utility poles and lines, preventing exit and entry. Fallen utility lines meant that all means of communication, including area cell towers, were unavailable.
“This is ground zero for (Tropical Storm Iselle),” said Ren Sanford, a resident of Kapoho Vacationland, as he stood out front of the neighborhood Saturday afternoon. “If anyone had been seriously injured, we would have been in serious trouble. … Until the National Guard cut their way through this morning, nobody could get in, including emergency vehicles.”
Sanford said that the storm experienced by the rest of the island Thursday night and early Friday morning was very different from the one that battered the low-lying area, which includes waterfront homes along the Kapoho tide pools. While falling trees and power outages were the biggest fears for everyone else, it was the “terrifying” storm surge and waves that wreaked havoc on the houses there.
“By 8:30 or 9 p.m. (Thursday), the storm surge was rushing at high speed under my house. It picked up my SUV (a Nissan Pathfinder) and carried it a couple hundred yards down the road,” he said.
Telltale waterline marks on the sides of houses in the neighborhood showed that the surge reached 3 or 4 feet in some places. Most of the newer houses built up on columns survived the worst of the storm. Older homes closer to the ground weren’t so lucky.
One house, located on Wai‘Opae Road next door to the home of former Mayor Harry Kim, was knocked off of its concrete foundation and pushed back about 10 or 15 feet. Another on Kaheka Road appeared to be a loss, its roof collapsed to the ground on one side. Sanford said he was aware of about three or four such homes that were dealt crushing blows from the surge and accompanying waves.
At about 9 p.m., the surge tore Sean Sullivan’s staircase from the rear of his house, which faces the tide pools, and sent it crashing back into Sanford’s house.
“That’s when I started fearing for my life, and my girlfriend’s life,” Sanford said.
On Saturday, Sullivan was busily climbing a long ladder from the ground up into his house, carrying loads of building supplies.
“I’m trying to make it before the surge comes back,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll spend the night here. I don’t want to be here for that again. We may stay in a hostel.”
With no Internet, phone or television, many of the residents said they hadn’t heard until Saturday morning that Hurricane Julio veered north of the Big Island, and they had been worried they could be slashed by a second round, perhaps even worse than the first.
Luckily, Sanford said, Kapoho is a tight-knit community, and neighbors there have pulled together, helping clear debris and safeguard each other’s homes.
“The aloha spirit is alive and well here,” he said.
Meanwhile, residents in other lower Puna neighborhoods were coping as best they could as utility crews worked to open up roadways and restore electrical power. To reach some areas in Nanawale Estates means navigating a treacherous labyrinth of roads. In many areas, heavy fallen trees were suspended tenuously above the roadway, held in place only by strained utility lines.
Twenty-two-year-old Colby Padilla stood in front of his Seaview Road home Saturday afternoon, eyeing one such passage through the road. Earlier, he had used a chainsaw to cut a tree to make a clearing for vehicles under the low-hanging power lines.
As he spoke, five children zoomed about on bicycles and Big Wheels under the watchful eye of his wife, Jerritha. Whenever the keiki got too close to the suspended trees, she would shoo them away.
“We need electricity,” he said. “We’ve been siphoning water out of our tank, but we also need ice. Our food is spoiling.”
Padilla said he saw a fight break out over a bag of ice Friday.
“It was crazy,” he said.
Neighbor Duke Estabilio said he had driven up to Pahoa to stand in line for ice, but was turned away when supplies ran low.
“We’re suffering here. They should be bringing it down to us. And they’re not checking people’s ID’s. I saw plenty people not from around here standing in line. People from Hilo. Why they gotta come down here and take our ice?” he said.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.