Since Tropical Storm Iselle hit East Hawaii with devastating force last week, social media and the coconut wireless have been abuzz with allegations of “looting” in Puna.
One comment on Facebook that has seen a lot of re-posting stated: “HPP Residents!! There is a U-Haul Truck going around steal from people’s houses &there are also people posing as tree cutters going around ripping off from people’s houses too. STAY ALERT!!”
Another read: “Could you please let people know to keep their eyes out for thieves in (Hawaiian Paradise Park) area. White Toyota truck with smashed front end and a dog stealing generators and whatever else can Also 6 guys in a uhaul truck scoping the area. MAHALO.”
Calls and emails to the Tribune-Herald also have alleged widespread looting in Puna. One woman who left an anonymous voicemail message Wednesday said: “We’re now hearing all kinds of stories about some people renting U-Hauls and stealing from the people.”
And at least one Honolulu television news organization has referred to “reports of looting” in Puna, although no first-hand reports were provided.
Puna, especially Hawaiian Paradise Park, has garnered a reputation as a high-burglary, high-theft area during the past few years, which has probably lent more credibility to that kind of talk in ice and water distribution lines and on the Internet. But police say the so-called “reports” are more likely exaggeration and rumor.
“We did a quick report this morning, just to show what we’re looking at prior to the storm, during the storm and now after the storm,” Sgt. Daylan Asuncion of Puna Patrol Division said Wednesday. “… The six days prior to the storm, we had six burglary reports (and) six theft reports.
“Six days after the storm, we have seven burglary reports and 12 theft (reports). We have a total of six theft cases during the actual time of the storm. So, it’s not very much of a difference.”
Asuncion said police are aware of the talk and social media postings making the rounds of the local populace.
“I know people have been hearing there are reports of 40 looting cases. I don’t know where that information came from,” he said.
Asuncion said there is one report of a stolen generator.
“One generator,” he said. “And a generator is a hot item here, even without the storm. We got reports of stolen generators even prior to the storm.”
He said in addition to the generator, other items reported stolen include a lawn chair, fruit and two automobiles.
Asuncion said since the storm police have an increased patrol presence with help from the Hawaii Army National Guard and Air Force Reserve, as well as the Hilo Criminal Investigation Division, to bring the number of officers patrolling the district from the usual eight to about 20 at any given time.
“They sent some guys out here to help us, so we have a lot of presence out there,” he said.
Police Chief Harry Kubojiri said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of any credible reports of widespread pillaging in Puna.
“What our officers report are mostly people coming to the aid of their neighbors,” he said.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.