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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 27, 2001

Wailuku River to get danger signs

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — Forty warning signs will be put up soon along the Wailuku River by Hawai'i County and state officials trying to prevent drownings in the dangerous waterway.

The plans were developed last night at a joint meeting of six agencies and residents of Reeds Island, which borders the river that claimed the life of a 15-year-old Puna boy June 13.

The gathering was requested by Mayor Harry Kim who has expressed concern over deaths in the river.

Fire officials do not keep records of drownings on the river, but veteran rescue squad members have estimated it is probably one a year.

The signs will stress the river is dangerous to swimmers, waders or divers. The exact language was still being studied last night, according to Bill Davis, Civil Defense administrator.

Patrick Libert, a six-year-resident of Reeds Island, said he believes vigilance by homeowners has reduced the number of trespassers. He encouraged more be done to prevent deaths.

Most victims are young, less experienced swimmers, though police said they have not done a typical profile of those who have drowned.

Several people, including Civil Defense deputy Bruce Butts, said authorities cannot stop the use of the river.

"Plenty of people don't understand the river. They just jump in," commented David Bernabe who has swum in the Wailuku for 30 years. He believes teaching youngsters about the dangers is better than forbidding them to swim.

Davis said prohibiting swimming in the river would be folly because the county and state combined do not have the resources to enforce such a ban.