Albizia trees part of problem of Puna recovery

Crews are still working hard to restore power to Puna residents who have been struggling during the past week.

Hawaii Electric Light and supporting crews are making steady progress in restoring service to residents who were blacked out because of Tropical Storm Iselle.

Some 800 customers got their power back yesterday and about 1,900 remain without service.

More than 200 crew members have been mobilized to work on restoring power that includes trimming back damaged trees and re-digging new holes for damaged power poles.

HELCO estimates it may take up to three weeks or more to get everyone reconnected to the grid.

A big part of the problem is the downed trees, but one type of tree is especially problematic.

Almost a hundred years ago, a botanist brought the albizia tree to Hawaii to help protect the watershed.

But because its limbs are brittle and the root system shallow, the albizia is vulnerable when a strong wind hits — and for Puna residents, so are their homes, cars and power lines.

University of Hawaii botany professor Ken Leonhardt knows full well the potential impact of the trees.

“Any time there was a strong wind, anything more than like 15-20 miles an hour, you would always run away from the albizia trees,” he said. “You didn’t want to be anywhere near them, because I’ve seen limbs that were over a foot in diameter just drop off the tree.”

Albizia trees can be found on every island. They can grow to 20 or 30 feet high in the first year. In many countries, they are considered a weed.

They can provide shade and, in some cases, help with the watershed. But in a high wind situation like Tropical Storm Iselle, they pose a potential hazard.

Leonhardt says if you have one on your property, best to get rid of it.

But he did add it would be virtually impossible to get rid of all the albizia trees in the state. Leonhardt said we should be on guard when those trees are close to power lines or private property.

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