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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 27, 2003

This time, Mapunapuna ready to weather storm

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Mapunapuna business operators devastated by floodwaters earlier this month prayed for the best and prepared for the worst yesterday as the National Weather Service predicted more cloudbursts, starting tonight.

Robert Mitchell of Mr. Sandman Inc. spent yesterday barricading his Mapunapuna business with sandbags in anticipation of heavy rains that could last into next week.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

"We've basically built a dam in front of our building," said Bob Freeman, president of Mr. Sandman Inc., a surface preparation outfit at 697 Ahua St. "We're closed because we've got the place completely blocked. We spent the day putting in sandbags. We're ready for 3 feet of water."

While the city announced the cancellation of this weekend's Sunset on The Beach extravaganza in Waikiki, the O'ahu Civil Defense Agency advised residents to be prepared for heavy rains and flash flooding, and urged motorists and hikers to use extreme caution.

Bob Farrell, lead forecaster for the weather service, said some locations could expect 5 to 10 inches of rain during the next week.

"Where, we can't say," Farrell said. "Hopefully, it won't be Mapunapuna."

The Dec. 7 downpour dumped as much as 11 inches of rain on parts of O'ahu over a 24-hour period. Cars stalled in door-high water on some flooded highways and several teenagers were swept down swollen streams and drainage canals before clambering to safety.

Fred Smales, chairman of Plywood Hawai'i on Kikowaena Place, yesterday said a dredging crew began removing tons of silt and mangrove trees from the Moanalua Stream near his business and Ahua Street early yesterday morning.

"They're here right now with a crane and big clamshell bucket digging away furiously," said Smales, whose business suffered an estimated $70,000 to $100,000 in inventory damage when 2 feet of water swept through the building on Dec. 8, ruining 60 pallets of plywood.

City heavy equipment supervisor Kalani Joseph said the mobile 20-ton crane at the site removed numerous truckloads of silt and mangroves throughout yesterday's eight-hour operation. He said workers would continue the work today with the crane and an excavator.

Joseph said it could take weeks to completely clean out the stream, but hoped the two-day dredging effort would be enough to keep it from overflowing, as it did earlier this month.

Connie Smales, president of Plywood Hawai'i, said the last time the stream was dredged was four years ago. She praised yesterday's exhaustive dredging effort.

"You've got to give these guys a lot of credit," she said. "They've been working their tails off. The city just doesn't have the manpower, so it gets down to where you want to place your priorities."

Joseph said a law that went into effect Nov. 1 requires anyone operating a crane weighing more than 5 tons to be certified. While the city did have five crane operators, he said three recently retired. Of the two remaining operators, only one — Don Cabinatan, the man at the controls yesterday — has been certified.

"I can tell you the city has been doing all that it can," Joseph said.

Ron Uemura, owner of Ron's Auto Parts and Performance on Kilihau Street, at the ocean end of Mapunapuna, was stoic.

"If it's going to happen, it's going to happen," said Uemura, who contends the problem is not flooding but inadequate drainage. "We're too close to sea level — there's no place for the water to go. I've had people say I should put in sandbags. But how do you put sandbags in a swimming pool?"

T. Kawika Chun, vice president of the Mutual Welding company at 739 Ahua St., said, "There's not much left now to get wet. Pretty much everything that was on the ground in the flood has been thrown out. It was worthless.

"I guess before I go home I'll toss all my files on the desk."

Most business operators in Mapunapuna, however, were stacking inventory on double pallets and moving office equipment as high as possible.

"This morning I told people here, everything goes up high," said Betty Cambra, customer service supervisor for Wire Products of Hawaii Inc. at 729 Ahua St. "Because once the water comes in, there's nothing we can do about it. We were just flooded completely before — mud and everything. We just put this new carpet down."

Fred Smales was also in the process of elevating inventory, although not without some sense of irony.

"We're moving our stuff to higher ground," he said. "This time, we will be prepared — after the horse was stolen."

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.