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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 29, 2002

Rockslides hit East O'ahu

By Kelly Yamanouchi and Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writers

Rockslides yesterday sent volleyball-size rocks crashing onto Kalaniana'ole Highway from the cliffs above Makapu'u Beach and boulders rolling down a hillside in Hawai'i Kai where they struck a condominium and two vehicles.

Cars parked in Hawai'i Kai were damaged by large boulders. No injuries were reported.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Heavy rain preceded the rockslides, which resulted in the closure of Kalaniana'ole Highway and the temporary evacuation of residents of at least one condo on Hawai'i Kai Drive.

No injuries were reported in either incident.

Homeowner Sione Galvez was watching television with his wife in their home at 7168 Hawai'i Kai Drive shortly after 8 p.m. when he heard a loud rumble like he'd never heard before.

He looked outside his window to find a boulder the size of a dumpster sitting on top of his Honda CRV and another boulder, this one about 4 feet by 4 feet, smashed into his Lexus sedan.

A piece of one of the boulders had bounced off the ground and struck the second floor of the house, said Galvez, 46.

"It shattered my window," he said. "We ran out and saw the debris on the ground. There's branches here and mud and rocks all around."

The largest rock was bigger than the 5-ton boulder that killed a Nu'uanu woman in August, said Capt. Richard Soo, spokesman for the Honolulu Fire Department.

The death of Dara Rei Onishi in her Henry Street home on Aug. 9 heightened awareness of the rockfall danger for people who live in the shadow of Hawai'i's ridges and mountains and raised questions not only about safety but liability and responsibility as well.

It rained heavily in the East Honolulu area yesterday afternoon, with about 1.5 inches received in 90 minutes or less, according to Hans Rosendal, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

Fire officials said the rain was a contributing factor in both rockfall incidents.

The rocks that fell from the cliffs at Makapu'u Beach onto Kalaniana'ole Highway during a heavy rain late yesterday afternoon forced the closure of the road just a day after it reopened following the first phase of work to make the area safer.

HPD Officer Carl Roth stands watch at the Waimanalo side of the Makapu'u cliffs where about a dozen volleyball-sized rocks fell onto the roadway last night. The road has been closed.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

An assessment by engineers late yesterday led the state Department of Transportation to close the road at least until today in the interest of safety. The DOT was to return to the site this morning.

Area residents have complained for years about falling rocks, and a substantial slide on Oct. 15 prompted the state to move up work to rid the cliffs of loose rocks and erect a protective fence.

Just this week a falling rock struck a passing car, shattering its windshield, and the driver called for the closure of the road until the steel mesh is put in place and the project is completed.

His call came as a subcontractor on the project warned motorists not to drive the area during or after heavy rain until the fence is erected, saying the rainfall could further erode the cliffs and loosen rocks.

"Without that net and with this rain we're going to constantly have rocks come down," said fire Capt. Fred Tom, referring to Makapu'u.

Wilson Ho, chairman of the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board, has helped lead the call for safety measures at Makapu'u, and he was upset after last night's incident.

"It's not that a rock fell, it's that more rocks can fall," said Ho, who travels the area to get to work every day. "Somebody's not doing a good job," he said, referring to work intended to rid the area of loose rocks.

Police officer Carl Roth, who was manning a barricade on the Waimanalo side of the fall last night, said it was raining heavily when "a dozen volleyball-size rocks" came down at about 5:20 p.m.

There were no reports of vehicles or people being struck.

It was unclear last night what the Kalaniana'ole situation meant for the community, which was counting on the road being open this weekend for a two-day festival intended to draw people to town and help reinvigorate its businesses. Many of them suffered a drastic drop-off in the three weeks the road was closed for eight hours a day while the work was performed.

But Ho said they will press on.

"The plans won't change," he said. "We're going to continue with it and just hope that people are sympathetic toward it and will come out stronger."

A free concert and several concession operations have been scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday on the Honolulu Polo Club field.

Work is scheduled to get under way on Kalaniana'ole again Monday when crews return to prepare the cliff for the mesh. The subcontractor will begin hanging the mesh the week of Dec. 9, according to the Department of Transportation.

No new lane closures are scheduled until Dec. 9.

In Hawai'i Kai, 'Oahu Civil Defense and the Red Cross were called in to help, but despite initial concern about further danger from more boulders, Galvez decided to stay in his home last night after all.

Soo said there was no more emergency and no need for the Fire Department to remain at the scene.

He said that once the weather clears, it will have to be determined where the boulder started and who is responsible for the property.

Resident Milad Estivan came out with friends to look at the boulders and the damage. Estivan said he has been concerned about rockslides and boulders falling ever since

Onishi was killed in Nu'uanu.

"I live here and I look at a bunch of rocks out my window," he said. "I always assumed the developers did a lot of research on this stuff."