PUNA, HAWAII — Many residents in this storm-ravaged community have gone days without water and electricity in their homes.

Food in the refrigerators is rotting and medication that must be kept cool, such as insulin, is in danger of going bad.

Ice is in high demand. So are water, juice and other perishable goods that will help get residents by until the power is back on.

Things have been like this here for several days, ever since Tropical Storm Iselle whipped through the forests tearing down trees and anything else in its path.

Food giveaway for hurricane needy at the Pahoa Neighborhood Center on August 11, 2014

Food is handed out in Pahoa to those who have been hit hardest by Tropical Storm Iselle.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

“It was just overwhelming,” said Puna resident Emily Henry. “We realized then we were on our own.”

Henry lives in Leilani Estates, outside of Pahoa on the east side of the Big Island. It’s one of several neighborhoods in this rural community that took the brunt of Iselle’s 65-mph wind gusts.

Henry said she’s been without power since Thursday, and has been relying on free food and water that neighbors and government officials have have been offering.

She’s not alone. Lines of cars backed up at community centers for the chance to pick up bottles of Hawaiian Springs water, Capri-Sun and ice.

Dozens of people attended a chili and rice feed that was put on by a Hurricane Iniki survivor who wanted to show gratitude for the support she received after that storm slammed into Kauai packing 140-mph winds.

And the community pool has become a gathering place where residents can shower and charge their cell phones, although service has been spotty.

“I want to have my say.” — Emily Henry, Puna resident

Meanwhile, state and county workers have been scrambling to get roads cleared and electrical lines working again.

The Hawaii Electric Company said Monday it planned to triple its workforce, bringing in backup from Oahu and the mainland. One of the biggest challenges is removing fallen debris from the storm.

In the midst of all the repairs are U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, locked in a tight race for the U.S. Senate with Schatz ahead by 1,635 votes.

Hanabusa is hoping to close the gap in Puna, where thousands of voters were unable to fill out ballots due to Iselle closing two polling places.

Both campaigns moved their operations to Puna on Sunday, the day after the primary, in the hopes their presence could boost voter turnout and establish enough goodwill to put them over the top.

They each also stressed that they are doing their best to help the people who have been hurt most by the tropical storm.

On Monday, Schatz was in Nanawale Estates, one of the hardest hit areas in Puna. He refused to talk to the media, instead focusing on delivering goods to residents.

Sen. Brian Schatz helps with water distribution in the hard hit Nanawale Estates area of Puna on August 11, 2014

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz helps with water distribution in the hard hit Nanawale Estates area of Puna.

©PF Bentley/Civil Beat

While he wasn’t actively campaigning, he did pause a few times to take photos with volunteers and others who had recognized him.

Hanabusa was also reportedly on the ground and in the air, assessing the damage and speaking with residents.

Her campaign would not tell Civil Beat where she was, although spokesman Peter Boylan did release a statement voicing displeasure with the Office of Elections decision to settle the election delay with walk-in voting on Friday.

“A lot of voters in those two precincts are without power and water and many of the roads are blocked with debris, isolating large pockets of the community,” Boylan said. “It is unrealistic to think people struggling to find basic necessities and get out of their homes will have the ability to go to the polls Friday.”

Boylan also noted that Hanabusa is weighing her legal options, meaning she could challenge the final results should the election not go her way. As it stands today, the numbers are not in her favor.

It’s hard to ignore the political stakes at play in Puna. A U.S. Senate seat is on the line, and many people know it.

“I’d go house to house, bring my chain saws and do what I have to do. You have 72 hours to win someone’s vote.” — Kai Kahele, Hilo resident

Kai Kahele was one of several volunteers who was distributing ice and water alongside Schatz on Monday.

Kahele’ father, Gilbert Kahele, is a state senator and used to represent Puna before reapportionment.

But even though he said everyone puts politics aside during relief efforts, he admits it’s something that’s always present, noting that even he was wearing a campaign shirt.

“The reality is the U.S. Senate seat depends on these two polling sites,” Kahele said. “I’d go house to house, bring my chain saws and do what I have to do. You have 72 hours to win someone’s vote.”

While this attitude can be offputting to some, especially those who still don’t have electricity or running water in their homes, it might energize certain voters.

Emily Henry and her husband, Rob, say they fall into that category. They’re two of the many thousands of registered voters who didn’t get a chance to vote Saturday.

The Henrys felt like something was taken away from them the day the polls closed because of Iselle.

But now knowing they can help decide the fate of a future U.S. senator has them clinging to their voting rights.

“I want to have my say,” Emily Henry said.

“So do I,” Rob added.

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