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