Thousands remain without power after Iselle wreaked havoc on Hawaii electric grid


Power lines are scattered like toothpicks on the roadways near Pāhoa, Hawaii on Friday. (Harry Durgin via Weather Underground)

Over 8,000 customers remained without power on the Big Island of Hawaii on Sunday, and Hawai’i Electric Light cautions that the outage might continue into next week, or longer. Hawai’i Electric Light president Jay Ignacio is calling the damage “worse than anything we’ve ever seen here.”

On Sunday the outage, which was caused by Tropical Storm Iselle’s strong winds and rain, was impacting 8,100 customers — approximately 10 percent of Hawai’i Electric Light’s customers. Hawai’i Electric Light is the Big Island component of the larger Hawaiian Electric Industries, which supplies power to the vast majority of the state.

Tropical Storm Iselle made landfall on the Big Island on Friday morning with winds of up to 60 mph, and a torrential amount of rain. Over 14 inches of rain fell in the high elevations of the Big Island on Friday.

In a candid statement, Hawai’i Electric Light president Jay Ignacio apologized for the remaining outages on Sunday, explaining how difficult this situation has been for the utility infrastructure on the Big Island (emphasis by CWG):

We understand the frustration of our customers who are still without power and sincerely apologize to them. We understand that customers want estimated restoration times so they can plan. Unfortunately, the extent of damage is worse than anything we’ve ever seen here. We’re working on providing more specific, reliable estimates and hope to do so by tomorrow (Monday) morning. Customers without power should expect to remain without it well into next week, if not longer. Again, we apologize and ask for their continued patience.

When Iselle hit Hawai‘i Island, the wind and rain caused trees to topple and fly into power lines, breaking lines and poles. We were in a very precarious situation at the end of last week. As Iselle hit our island, we started losing our transmission lines – the backbone of our electric grid – and came very close to losing the whole island. Of the 35 transmission lines on the island, we lost more than half during the storm. Both the north and south transmission lines were lost as well as the transmission lines serving Puna Geothermal Venture.


Trees downed by Iselle’s tropical storm-strength winds block roadways in Pāhoa, Hawaii on Friday. (Harry Durgin via Weather Underground)

Storm Chaser Reed Timmer captured some of the damage from a helicopter survey over the Puna district of the Big Island, which is on the east side, south of Hilo. The video shows residual flooding, roofs ripped from houses, and debris floating in the ocean water. Some of the weaker structures appear to have sustained serious damage. Further inland, trees have been ripped from the ground in straight-line winds. This damage is reminiscent of what is seen after a strong derecho.

 

Meanwhile on Maui, only 39 customers were without power on Sunday, and Maui Electric was working to restore electricity to those homes.

Angela Fritz is an atmospheric scientist and The Post's deputy weather editor.
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