HEL Prepared to Respond if Ash Causes Power Interruptions

May 15, 2018, 2:47 PM HST
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Hawai‘i Electric Light announces that extended power interruptions are possible due to ash falling on insulators and utility equipment from Halema‘uma‘u.

At 11:43 HST, Civil Air Patrol flight CAP20 reported plume tops at 9,500′ with the dispersed plume up to 11,000′. The CAP mission was launched from Hilo in support of Hawai’i County Civil Defense and USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory response to the ongoing eruption. Ashfall from this plume has been reported falling on communities downwind. USGS Photo

“A combination of a light dusting of ash and moisture on utility insulators could result in electrical short circuits, which could cause power interruptions,” warned Rhea Lee-Moku, spokesperson for Hawai‘i Electric Light. “If this occurs, we are prepared to respond once it is safe for employees to work in the impacted area. While we have equipment that can wash off ash from utility equipment, this is the first experience we will have with widespread volcanic ash.”

Extended power interruptions may occur if the ash fallout covers a large area or is very heavy and damages utility equipment. Hawai‘i Electric Light recommends customers who experience a power interruption to:

  • Unplug sensitive electronic equipment and other electric appliances.
  • Keep the doors to your refrigerator and freezer closed as much as possible.  Discard any perishable food that has been above 41 degrees F for over two hours. Food can stay cold in the refrigerator for up to four to six hours if the door is kept closed and for about one to three days in the freezer, depending on how full the freezer is.
  • If you are dependent on life support, make prior arrangements with a hospital or emergency facility.

One pole cracked and fell on Pohoiki Road Monday, underscoring the need for continued caution around electric equipment even in areas where eruption activity has subsided. The damaged pole was in an area that was already de-energized due to other seismic activity.

A total of about 400 customers in Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens are without power. No additional outages have been caused by new fissures that opened in the last 24 hours.


Steam, seismic activity and cracking pavement can affect the stability of poles and electrical equipment. Last week, line crews replaced a pole that fell on Leilani Avenue that may have been toppled by shifting ground, even though it was some distance from an active fissure.


Hawai‘i Electric Light continues to warn residents to assume that all downed lines and equipment are energized and dangerous. Stay at least three cars lengths away from downed lines and use caution around all poles and overhead lines.

Hawai‘i Electric Light personnel started working in Leilani Estates today to secure equipment so that it is safe and to reduce the potential for future damage – replacing an anchor to stabilize a pole, for example. While residents will see workers in the area, workers will not make repairs or re-energize any circuits while volcanic activity continues.

With the shutdown of the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) plant, Hawai‘i Electric Light still has sufficient power generation available to meet the island’s needs. PGV is an independent power producer that sells electricity to Hawai‘i Electric Light.


Puna resident J. Malia Buck said, “Major update from my neck of the woods – Kilauea began erupting this morning. Pāhala and Na’alehu are evacuating due to heavy ashfall and toxic gas. This morning civil defense was going house to house urging everyone to tape up their window seams and put wet towels at the bottom of their doors, disconnect their gutters from their catchment tanks, get animals inside and stay indoors. About 15 minutes later a huge black monster appeared in the sky heading straight for us. I frantically taped all the window seams, herded my three cats into the house, got the gas masks out of the shop and watched as the eruption began to filter out the sun. We had tradewinds and the force of the explosion caused the wind to begin to blowing in the opposite direction – right for us. I brought extra gas masks, goggles, plastic sheeting and tape to my neighbors across the street so they would be okay; I also temporarily took in their cat because they were worried about him getting out into the ashfall. So here I am in a sealed house – another earthquake occurring as I write this – watching a very strangely colored sky out the living room window and waiting for the ash to start falling.”

Check Hawai‘i Electric Light’s website (, Twitter (@HIElectricLight), and Facebook (HawaiianElectric) accounts for updates.

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