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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Cloning, medical research hit hard by flooding at UH

 •  Photo Gallery - Halloween Eve Flood
 •  Manoa, UH assess flash flood's damage
 •  Librarians rush to salvage flood-damaged items
 •  Students in library fled floodwaters
 •  Homeowners insurance limited
 •  Halloween eve flood damage to UH facilities 'unbelievable'

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Top University of Hawai'i medical researchers were estimating losses to their laboratories in the millions of dollars yesterday in the aftermath of the flash flood that hit Manoa and the UH campus Saturday night.

Science reference librarian Kristen Anderson takes a swig of water outside Hamilton Library where cleanup has been ongoing since Saturday's flooding.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Ryuzo Yanagimachi, the internationally renowned mouse cloner, estimates at least $2 million in damage to the first-floor offices alone in his Institute for Biogenesis Research, with untold additional losses of research data in computers that were hit by floodwaters. Computer hard drives have been removed where possible and data recovery is being attempted.

"You cannot put a price on data," said Yanagimachi. "It could be a three-year setback of work."

The university hasn't yet been able to put a total dollar amount on losses, said spokesman Jim Manke, but it clearly is significant. Classes are in recess today because of the Election Day holiday, but officials expected to decide whether classes might resume tomorrow. Even if the rest of the campus opens, medical students will be taking classes in the auditorium at Shriners Hospital, said dean Ed Cadman.


• UH-Manoa: No classes today, a scheduled holiday in conjunction with Election Day. A decision about when classes will resume is expected today. More information: www.hawaii.edu or 956-0001.

Noelani Elementary: Reopens for classes on Thursday.


A coordinating office has been set up to accept offers from volunteers to help with the cleanup at UH. Call 956-7486.

Four buildings were damaged so extensively — including the medical school (Biomedical Sciences building), Hamilton Library, Sherman Laboratory and the Ag Sciences III building — that they won't get electricity back any time soon, said Manke. By late yesterday, electricity still had not been restored to nearly three dozen buildings, although generators installed all over campus were powering refrigerator services for scientists. Dormitories were fully powered and operational, with the Hale Aloha dining facility staying open overnight as a study area, with computer access.

Everywhere through the swath of destruction, professors, students and staff worked to clean mud, assess damage and save what they could. About 125 maintenance workers were doing cleanup, with individuals and organizations volunteering as well. The lower campus parking structure is expected to be cleaned and back in service by tomorrow, and it's expected that Friday's Wahine volleyball match with Fresno State will be played as scheduled in the Stan Sheriff Center.

UH-Manoa student workers team up to push mud and water out of the parking structure of the makai campus. Water from upper decks contributed to flooding of parts of the athletic complex below.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Meanwhile, potentially hazardous radioactive materials were safely removed by UH environmental health and safety experts yesterday morning from research geneticist Rebecca Cann's Biomedical Sciences laboratory.

"They've taken out anything they thought would be harmful," said a mud-spattered Cann, walking gingerly through her destroyed lab, pointing out a number of freezers and refrigerators overturned by floodwaters.

One overturned refrigerator in Cann's lab still contained hazardous chemicals yesterday, and no one knows whether they have spilled or not, she said. It won't be opened until more investigation is done.

Medical school researchers were beginning to look for space for their work with colleagues in other UH buildings, and even wondering aloud whether the devastation could drive some to leave UH, taking important grant money with them.

"That's a possibility," said Steven Seifried, associate professor in the department of cell and molecular biology, who lost samples of DNA from people throughout the Pacific for his work on genes linked to heart disease risk.

"Research has a lot of momentum and something like this breaks the momentum. This is going to set everything back months. We're not even going to be able to inhabit these spaces. There will be mold growing. When you do molecular biology, you can't have any mold."

In the last two months alone, the medical school has had an abundance of grants awarded — $61 million in multi-year grants compared to $2.3 million annually five years ago when medical school dean Edwin Cadman first arrived. And the new medical school in Kaka'ako, set to be occupied by researchers next July, is expected to be an important new force for improving the state economy.

"Thirty-three percent of our budget, $330 million, comes from the science side of the operation," said interim UH President David McClain, who spent part of yesterday trudging throughout campus to assess damage.

"We have experiments going on all the time and there is no power. It is a situation you can live with for a few hours, but not for long."

It was the medical school that took the brunt of the flood, with four laboratories in the A Courtyard virtually destroyed.

One young member of Yanagimachi's cloning team, Yukiko Yamazaki, working late Saturday evening, came close to drowning, said Yanagimachi. In trying to escape from her office as water rushed down the hall, she was pushed by the water into a courtyard, but grabbed a tree and clung to it, calling for help.

"If no one had noticed, she would have drowned," said Yanagimachi.

A maintenance worker heard her calls, he said, and came to her rescue.

"She fell and was pushed by the water," said Stefan Moisyadi, research coordinator for the Institute for Biogenesis Research. "She tried to reach her car but it was floating."

Muddy water also flooded the building's basement, knocking out the transformer and the innards of the backup generator, and cutting off electricity to refrigerators and freezers that contained lab specimens and priceless research materials throughout the building.

"The biohazard safety people have been around to make sure we're keeping everything contained until we can haul it away," said Cann, speaking over the roar of temporary generators trying to chill the still usable freezers.

Cann and researchers such as David S. Haymer say they have lost an unknown number of specimens. Cann, who researches the migration of Pacific peoples through changes in their DNA, rushed some samples home to a freezer there, but it's nowhere near as cold as the minusi80-

degree freezer on campus. Anytime samples are unstable or change temperature, they break down, she said.

Haymer said he has lost hundreds of specimens of fruit flies collected from around the world. "They were in an ultra-cold freezer which failed," he said. "Some were specimens we hadn't yet extracted the DNA from."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.