Storm blows through the islands

Strong winds pummeled Maui County on Friday night, downing trees and branches, closing roads, damaging homes and triggering widespread power outages and an urgent call for water conservation.

Maui County firefighters responded to two dozen storm-related calls Friday night, not counting numerous fire alarm calls brought by power outages and rain, said Maui Fire Department Capt. Paul Haake.

Calls for help for downed trees and power lines included seven from Wailuku, six from Kula, five from Haiku, two from Makawao, two from Lahaina and one each from Kahului and Wailea, he said.

Lahaina firefighters responded to a 10:51 p.m. report that a 40-foot catamaran had broken free from its mooring off Lahaina town and had washed ashore, damaging oceanfront businesses and structures in the vicinity of 825 Front St., Haake said.

As of Saturday afternoon, the vessel was grounded on the shoreline, he said. State Department of Land and Natural Resources officials and the boat’s owners had been notified.

Damage to the Front Street structures had not been assessed, and there were no rescues or injuries stemming from the catamaran washing ashore, Haake said.

In Piiholo, firefighters went to the aid of residents who reported the partial collapse of their home, he said. There were no injuries, and the home’s tenants were able to find shelter within the damaged residence, he added.

Firefighters responded to two reports of downed power lines involving vehicles, Haake said. At 9:25 p.m., a vehicle was covered by cable television lines that were brought down by a toppled tree; and at 10 p.m., on West Kuiaha Road in Haiku, a motorist mistakenly drove over power lines that had been taken down by a fallen tree.

A Maui Electric Co. official was able to deactivate the power lines to assist the motorist, he said.

Red Cross volunteers assessed damages in Hawaii and Maui counties, officials reported. In Maui County, volunteers identified two homes that sustained damage and were then inaccessible. On the Big Island, two homes in Pahoa and Mountain View were destroyed. Red Cross caseworkers were set to assist the residents.

As of 6:30 a.m. Saturday, Maui Electric Co. reported power outages were affecting almost 19,600 customers in parts of Central Maui, South Maui, Upcountry, Paia, Haiku, East Maui and Molokai. The outages included about 5,070 customers in Kahului and Wailuku, 6,000 in South Maui, nearly 5,500 Upcountry, 2,700 in Paia and Haiku, just under 200 in East Maui and approximately 100 customers in the East End of Molokai.

Throughout the day and into the evening, MECO crews worked to restore power. As of 1:30 p.m., power had been returned to all customers on Molokai and the majority of customers in Wailuku and Kahului. There remained nearly 4,900 customers without power in pockets of Central Maui, Upcountry, Paia, Haiku and East Maui, the utility reported.

MECO reported that it expected to return power to all customers in parts of Upcountry, Paia and Haiku on Saturday evening. About 350 remaining customers in Piiholo and Olinda and from Keanae to Nahiku could expect a longer outage because power restoration work was scheduled to resume at 6 a.m. today, when working and lighting conditions in the remote areas are safer for repair crews working on damaged electrical equipment.

MECO officials warned residents to stay away from downed power lines. “Assume they are energized, or ‘live,’ and dangerous,” officials said.

The storm was more than an inconvenience for Wailuku merchants when the town’s First Friday festivities were canceled.

“They were setting up and everything but the storm was too much,” said David Giannotto, owner of Giannotto’s Pizza at 2050 Main St.

Lights flickered on and off a couple of times during the evening, he said, and then, at 9:15 p.m., the lights went off, and power didn’t return until 11 a.m. Saturday, he said.

Even after the power went out, customers came in and Giannotto said he did his best to serve them as long as he could.

“I’m from Jersey. I can take it,” he said.

He estimated his business lost more than $3,000 in sales and in food that needed to be thrown away to ensure it wasn’t spoiled and potentially sicken diners.

“I’m not going to take a chance with my customers,” he said.

Then, because power didn’t return until 11 a.m. Saturday, his normal opening time was delayed by three hours, Giannnotto said.

For many residents the storm meant a night in the dark, listening to the wind whistle through windows and pound on walls.

“It was pretty wild,” said Maui County Economic Development Director Teena Rasmussen.

On Friday evening, she had attended the inauguration of Mayor Alan Arakawa at the Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu and returned home to Kula to learn that power had been on and off intermittently at least a half-dozen times. Later, she found tree branches all over her yard and three plastic coverings of her flower lei farm’s greenhouses had been lost or damaged. “The wind is not our friend,” said Rasmussen, who owns Paradise Flower Farm.

She estimated damage at $1,500, not counting around $500 in labor to make repairs.

MECO President Sharon Suzuki said that Maui Electric officials understood how difficult it was for customers to experience extended power outages. “We sincerely apologize and thank you for your patience,” she told customers.

Suzuki stressed that MECO crews were working to return power as soon as possible. “In some of our most remote areas, helicopters were deployed to inspect and assess electrical lines,” she said.

Haleakala National Park’s summit received what appeared from a distance to be a light dusting of snow, although park spokeswoman Pauline Angelakis said it was ice and frost. A landslide and downed trees near the park’s summit entrance closed the park Saturday until further notice.

The park’s Kipahulu District remained open, but there were many downed trees and rocks on Hana Highway, she said.

Saturday morning reports of road closures included Piiholo Road from Makawao Avenue, Olinda Road near Seabury Hall, South Kihei Road between North Kihei Road and Uwapo Road, Haleakala Crater Road at Milepost 9 and Kekaulike Avenue in Kula.

Oceanic Time Warner Cable reported it experienced service interruptions on all islands, including problems with channels, digital breakups or no service. Officials could not be contacted for more details.

The county Department of Water Supply asked water consumers in Makawao, Olinda, Upper Kula and those from Kahului to Kihei, including Maui Meadows and Iao Valley to conserve water Saturday morning because the storm-related power outages and downed trees impacted water pumping capacity in those areas.

Maui County’s Civil Defense Agency asked residents and businesses to report high-wind damage.

“The information gathered will ensure that the County of Maui has a complete picture of the scope of damage caused by the high winds,” according to an announcement. “The data collected will allow county officials to determine if our jurisdiction qualifies for any state or federal assistance, as well as to assist with flood plain mapping.”

Completion of a damage assessment survey does not constitute an application for assistance, officials said. Residents and businesses will need to file claims with insurance companies.

To report storm damage, call 270-7285 or go to www.mauicounty.gov/StormDamageForm.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.