HONOLULU (AP) — 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 are spending their time in popular parts of Hawaii — 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 Thursday night. “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.
“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.”
The National Weather Service on Saturday night downgraded Hurricane Julio to a Category 1, the lowest level. Julio’s winds have weakened to about 90 mph, said Sam Houston, a forecaster with the weather service in Honolulu. Julio was expected to pass roughly 250 miles northeast of Maui Sunday and linger through the night, the weather service said.
The storm damage brought an intense spotlight to the Big Island’s Puna district after U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa locked into a dead heat for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. The race was too close to call early Sunday without votes from nearly 8,300 registered voters in two precincts that will vote through mail-in ballots after election officials postponed Saturday’s primary there because of downed trees and a lack of power.
The mostly agricultural Puna region is as big as the island of Oahu. Although 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 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.
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 Hilo area.
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.
Associated Press writers Oskar Garcia and Cathy Bussewitz in Honolulu contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.