Powerful storm knocks out electricity, putting much of Honokaa area at a standstill

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald

    Hawaii Electric Light Co. workers use a hydraulic lift Monday to hoist a utility pole located between mile markers 38 and 39 of Highway 19 in Kalopa that was snapped by high winds. Crews will replace 15 poles damaged by winds and fallen trees, which triggered a power outage that affected much of Honokaa and closed its public schools Monday.

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald A view from Pakalana Street, just above Honokaa High, Intermediate and Elementary schools, show brisk winds rustling the fronds of palm trees below.

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald A power outage caused by high winds forced a rare daytime closure Monday of iconic Honokaa eatery Tex Drive In.

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald A winter storm that caused almost 200 mph winds Sunday night atop Maunakea left a sparse dusting of snow at the summit, seen Monday from Waiakea Peninsula in Hilo.

  • Daphne Honma

CORRECTION: Hawaii Belt Road will be one lane only between the 38- and 39-mile markers between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. today. A previous edition of this story had an incorrect time. The Tribune-Herald regrets the error and apologizes for any inconvenience.

HONOKAA — Hawaii Electric Light Co. crews will continue work today to replace 15 damaged transmission poles and lines on Highway 19 in Kalopa that were downed during the weekend by gusty winds and fallen trees from a strong winter storm.

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The highway, also known as Hawaii Belt Road, was closed overnight Sunday between mile markers 38 and 39, with one lane reopened early Monday morning. One lane will be closed to traffic again from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. today so crews can work to replace the poles and lines, according to the utility.

Motorists are advised to drive with caution in the construction area and expect delays of up to 45 minutes.

According to a HELCO statement issued at about 3:30 p.m. Monday, about 640 customers were still without power in portions of Honokaa and Waipuhina.

“In some areas, repairs were delayed by hazardous weather conditions and inaccessibility,” the statement noted.

Earlier Monday, business in Honokaa appeared to be at a standstill because of the power outage, with stores closed along Mamane Street — including gas stations, which were unable to pump without electricity.

About 2,000 customers were without power as of 1 p.m., according to HELCO. The utility said that since Saturday morning about 9,700 customers have been directly affected by wind storm impacts on the transmission and distribution system.

On Sunday morning, about 45,800 customers, including some in Hilo, experienced a power interruption because of a sudden loss of generation, also caused by the wind storm impacts.

Honokaa High, Intermediate and Elementary schools remained without power Monday and classes were canceled. Daphne Honma, a temporary vice principal at the school, and the office staff were working in a darkened office.

“Our cafeteria is shut down. They can’t cook food for our kids and we depend on technology so much nowadays. It’s a vital part of our educational system. Even for us, at work, we struggle to get stuff done because we depend on the internet so much,” Honma said. “It’s been pretty tough.”

Students were already prepared to stay home today because of teacher institute, which is a non-instructional day.

“They said they were going to try to get the power on (today) and we hope that sometime (today) the power does come on,” Honma said. She added that if power isn’t restored to the school, Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena Complex Area Superintendent Art Souza “is going to assess it at that time and make a decision.”

Asked about damage to the school, Honma replied, “Our band room had some of the roofing lifted up. Down at the school farm, also, we had some roofing that got taken off.”

Nearby, at Honokaa police station, lights and air conditioning were operating, with a generator cranking out a constant whir.

“The generator has been running since (Sunday) night, so our power has been down for quite a while,” said Capt. Jason Albert Cortez, commander of the Hamakua and North Hilo districts.

Cortez said his officers reported some “little side street closures, trees across roadways.”

“The main thing was those multiple poles snapped on Highway 19,” he said. “We’re concerned about keeping the public safe and the roads open, keeping people out of the way of hot power lines. That’s our main focus.”

Cortez said another concern is the difficulty some of his officers experienced to report for work.

“We have a high percentage of officers that live in Hilo and Puna and they come here from that direction. So they have to make their way here and it’s a little bit of a gauntlet coming out. And the percentage of officers who actually live within the district is small,” he said.

One individual who took extreme measures to deal with the gauntlet referred to by Cortez is Jillian Faiers, a Papaaloa resident who works as a bartender at The Fish and the Hog Market Cafe in Waimea. Driving home from her Sunday shift at the barbecue restaurant, she was confronted by the fallen utility poles on Hawaii Belt Road.

“I got to mile marker 38 or wherever it was and got turned around and had to take Saddle Road home,” Faiers said. “And in the time from Honokaa to that mile marker, another tree had fallen. So I was sitting there at 11 o’clock (Sunday) night going, ‘Am I going to sleep in my car?’ But I ended up driving over the tree and taking Saddle Road all the way back home.”

Tex Drive In, an iconic Honokaa stop for locals and visitors alike for plate lunches and malasadas, was closed Monday, its parking lot gate uncharacteristically chained shut.

Bank of Hawaii sent a release to confirm its Hamakua branch was closed Monday because of the power outage and urging customers to visit its Waimea branch. The bank added that its Oahu call center remained open.

The county Department of Water Supply issued an emergency water restriction for Honokaa, Haina, Paauhau, Ahualoa, Kapulena and Kukuihaele, as the outage affected its ability to pump water.

“Customers should restrict water usage to health and safety needs only — drinking, cooking and hygiene purposes only. Irrigation activities should cease,” the release stated. “DWS is currently adjusting the water system to bring in water from other sources and is also hauling water; please kokua and limit water usage.”

A high surf warning remains in effect for north-facing shores of Hawaii Island, with a high surf advisory in effect for west-facing shores until 6 p.m. today, according to the National Weather Service.

“Surf is expected to remain high along north- and west-facing shores as (the) swell slowly diminishes,” forecasters said. “For west-facing shores of the Big Island, a combination of wind swell and the declining long-period northwest swell will produce advisory level surf.”

A high wind warning remains in effect for the summits and upper slopes of Maunakea and Mauna Loa until 6 p.m. today. Summit gusts on Maunakea reportedly topped 190 mph Sunday.

Shortly after 6 p.m. Monday, winds at Maunakea’s summit were 47 mph from the west-northwest. The summit road and Maunakea Visitor Information Station were closed.

“Travel to the summits should be delayed until the high winds subside,” forecasters said.

Hawaii County Civil Defense said Monday that county beach parks and campgrounds remained closed and are to be reassessed today for possible reopening.

“Major road closures include Bayfront Highway, Waipio Valley Road and Laupahoehoe Point Road,” said Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno.

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People who experienced property damage because of the storm are advised to make a report with Civil Defense by calling 935-0031.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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