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October 22, 2014

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Tourists back to paradise as part of Hawaii struggles

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Courtesy of Andrew Fujimura / AP

This photo provided by Andrew Fujimura shows the damage from Tropical Storm Iselle on a home in Puna, Hawaii, on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. Tropical Storm Iselle, knocked down trees, battered roofs and left the isolated area without electricity.

HONOLULU — His generator whirring at top speed, Gene Lamkin used rain captured from Tropical Storm Iselle to wash his hair as he and thousands of others in a rural swath of the Big Island remained in the dark and unable to traverse roads blocked by toppled trees. It was a far cry from the way tourists in popular parts of Hawaii spent their Saturday — sunbathing, kayaking and otherwise back to paradise despite an overcast sky.

"It's like camping right now," Lamkin said from a cellphone he charged using a generator after his electricity failed at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. "We're using water from our catchment system to bathe ourselves, shampoo our hair — trying to remain in a civilized manner."

Lamkin knows life in the isolated, jungle-like Puna region, where unpaved roads of volcanic rock are not maintained by the county, means being prepared for the worst. The region, home to about 40,000 people, has spent a day and a half without electricity as Hurricane Julio lingered hundreds of miles off the coast. The storm was expected to pass roughly 160 miles northeast of the islands at its closest point early Sunday and linger near the state into Monday.

"Those that didn't prepare are going to be in dire straits," he said. "We invested in a generator years ago, but this is the first time we've had to use it at a full-time capacity. We always have our shelves stocked with food and water."

Iselle brought heavy rain and violent wind early Friday when it made landfall over the southeastern part of the island. In the storm's wake, Andrew Fujimura and others armed with chain saws spent Saturday hacking at trees blocking roads or helping neighbors patch up damaged roofs.

"The government road is unpassable and probably will be for a week or two," he said.

Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira worries there could be injured people rescuers can't reach.

"We're hopeful even with the damage, we don't have casualties that are unaccounted for," he said.

On the island of Kauai, rescuers found the body Saturday of a 19-year-old woman believed to have been swept away in a stream while hiking Friday in a closed state park during a tropical storm warning.

The mostly agricultural Puna region is as big as the island of Oahu. While it's quickly growing because of affordable property, it's nowhere near as populated as the tourist destination home to Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor.

Umbrellas, surfboards and kayaks were back Saturday at Waikiki Beach, but surf shop worker Sparky Barros said business was still a little slow compared with a normal sunny day. It was damp and cloudy at the popular tourist spot, and rain was off and on throughout Honolulu, but people went about jogging, swimming and lying on the beach.

Tourists Ginny and George Gardner, who were celebrating their 42nd wedding anniversary, spent an extra day on Oahu after Iselle delayed their flight to Maui.

"We're from Boston. This wasn't a storm for us ... it was just a normal windy day," Ginny Gardner said.

Meanwhile, in the hard-hit Puna region, lines of cars snaked around a fire station giving away water, tarps and ice, which is in short supply for those without power.

The area had the bulk of the 9,200 customers still without power, according to Hawaii Electric Light Co. Outages could last through the weekend or longer, the utility said.

A public pool and community center opened to allow residents to shower and charge cellphones.

Self-proclaimed storm-chaser Jeff Piotrowski of Oklahoma said he's seen some crushed houses and power lines down on highways.

"There are literally tens of thousands of trees that are down," he said, adding that there are long lines for gasoline. "This is a massive undertaking to get all these lines back up."

Still, many were relieved that Iselle didn't pack a bigger punch throughout the island chain.

"This was no Sandy or Katrina or any other storm that you remember the name of," said Sylvia Dahlby, 58, of the Big Island's more populated Hilo area.

Voters were casting ballots Saturday after primary election polls opened statewide, said Rex Quidilla, spokesman for the Office of Elections. Two polling places in the Puna area of the Big Island were closed, with voters there to cast mail-in ballots after the election.

The Hawaii Department of Education said schools statewide will reopen Monday, except a high school on the Big Island that about 400 people used as a shelter Thursday to Saturday.

Associated Press writers Oskar Garcia and Cathy Bussewitz in Honolulu contributed to this report.

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