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NDPTC Team Visits Hawaii Island - Puna Region To Assess the Damage from Tropical Storm Iselle

Roof CollapseThe Hawaiian Islands tracked the approach of this storm with great caution, as it changed in intensity from Category 1 to 3 to 4, finally making landfall on the Big Island of Hawaii in the early morning of Friday, August 8, 2014 around 2:30 am HST. Several hours prior (11 pm, Thursday, August 7), maximum sustained winds were estimated to be at 70 mph, making the system a strong tropical storm but below category 1 hurricane intensity. Iselle currently holds the record for the strongest tropical cyclone to directly make landfall on the Big Island in recorded history.

The inquiry focused on three different types of impacts:
1) wind/weather;
2) coastal flooding; and
3) impacts on the community.

The purpose of the trip was initially the need to see first hand, not just the damage to houses, infrastructure, natural areas, but also lessons relevant to response, relief, short-term and long-term recovery. We now need to assess, how these observations and lessons fit into NDPTC strategic efforts to learn from disasters, build capacity, and strengthen resilience. The team was comprised of Executive Director Karl Kim, Sea Grant Specialist and NDPTC Instructor Dennis Hwang, NDPTC Meteorologist Owen Shieh, and NDPTC Instructor and Technology expert Kepano Kekuewa. Also Denise Laitinen, Hawaiian Paradise Park resident and social media expert, accompanied us for much of the day.

Coming from Oahu, the group was not expecting to see such widespread damage. Roads along the shoreline in the Puna district were eroded and scoured, with pavement displaced inland; Albizia trees were knocked down, many landing on power lines or impacting buildings and other structures.

The storm surge impacts were most prevalent in Kapoho, where eyewitness accounts described the water rise to exceed beyond 6 to 8 feet, with waves and spray observed to have reached a 16 ft. deck. The deck in the photo at the right, is just slightly over 16 ft., and this home was not damaged by the storm surge.

The photos below show a different story, stairs and other means of access to residences were destroyed by the surge, while some homes completely collapsed. There was also some roof damage that appeared to be a combination of surge and wind impact, although the wind gusts should not have exceeded tropical storm force in the Kapoho area. The right-front quadrant impact of Iselle on Kapoho likely contributed to the high surge.

At the conclusion of the damage assessment trip, the group joined U.S. Senator Brian Schatz for dinner. Senator Schatz had been on island all week participating in the recovery effort in the Puna region. The group discussion was about science/policy, weather warning definitions, and how to improve the communication between science/forecasting agencies and public consumers of that information. These issues play into the preparedness aspect of community resilience. Senator Schatz proposed hosting a workshop that brings together broadcasters and government/academic stakeholders to discuss ways to improve on this communication. This is related to our idea of hosting the NDPTC Third Thursday event in September 2014 based on the theme of bringing the meteorological communities of Oahu together for networking purposes (government, academic, private, and broadcasting).

Albizia TreesCollapsed RoofRoad Damage


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