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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 2, 2006

Kahala Mall tackles soggy wares, carpet

 •  Cleaning up O'ahu

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Cesar Bordaje, co-owner of Bordaje Cleaning Services, yesterday was busy at Kahala Mall suctioning water and debris left behind by Friday's sudden flood. Behind Bordaje are PacSun store manager John Hook, left, and associate manager Lisa Babcock-George.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Radio Shack senior manager Gary Hashimoto yesterday looked over some of his store's damaged goods. After evacuating Friday afternoon, Hashimoto returned to the store to rip out carpets and pile up damaged items. He doesn't want mold and mildew to accumulate.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Kahala Mall retailers were busy decontaminating carpets and tossing out soggy merchandise yesterday after a freak flash flood of swirling, muddy water burst into the mall Friday afternoon, knocked holes through two movie theater walls and serpentined through every wing, flooding an estimated 60 out of 90 businesses.

Mall officials had hoped to re-open tomorrow but pushed back the opening to Tuesday after surveying the damage yesterday and the cleanup work that still needs to be done. They declined to reveal typical weekend sales figures that would indicate how much money businesses lost by not being open.

Yesterday, Gov. Linda Lingle, Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, state Civil Defense director, and Ed Teixeira, deputy director of state Civil Defense, surveyed the damage inside the mall.

As dehumidifiers and fans dried out the soggy mall floor yesterday, and the strong smell of disinfectant hung in the air, Judy Morita kept sandbags piled up at the entrance of her Vue Hawai'i clothing store, just in case.

On Friday, Morita was enjoying a lunch of clam chowder in her store's office when she heard the whoo-oop, whoo-oop, whoo-oop of the mall's alarm system. Employee Adrianne Okikawa ran into the store ahead of the brown river, shouting, "Judy, Judy, Judy, the water's coming!"

Workers hastily threw packages and bags onto the floor in a futile effort to keep the water outside as others "raced to get everything off of the floor," Morita said. "We were inundated."

Yesterday officials pointed out the dirty water marks along the interior walls that traced the flood's path through Kahala Mall:

Sometime after 12:30 p.m., a river of debris-filled water raced down Hunakai Street and poured down a set of stairs that led to the glass doors of the Hunakai Street mall entrance.

The water somehow entered theater No. 8 which was showing "Ice Age," split open the wall to theater No. 7, then crashed through another wall to pour into theater No. 6, damaging 500 seats along the way, said Scott Brazwell, vice president of operations for Consolidated Theaters.

"It's not even clear what really happened," Brazwell said. "But it was busting through from one auditorium into another into another almost like storm surge. Pretty much all the seats are muddy or dirty. Thank God no one was hurt."

The water then poured through the theater's lobby and reconnected with the torrent that came in through the glass doors, reaching as high as 10 inches on both sides of the mall.

Some of it forked and raced back out of the mall's glass doors near Starbucks. The rest continued on at a depth of about 6 inches and flowed down a stairwell leading to bathrooms and retail storage units, ruining thousands of more dollars worth of merchandise.

As the water gushed down the stairs, people raced upstairs against the current.

By the time the river stopped flowing outside of Macy's and California Pizza Kitchen, it was only about 2 inches deep.

Any merchandise that had been sitting on the ground or mere inches off the floor was ruined.

Most business owners were too tired and too busy cleaning up yesterday to even begin to calculate their losses from damaged merchandise, warped or ruined flooring, lost sales and the unexpected cost of bringing in workers on overtime to help clean up.

But Gaye Kaupiko, who owns Kahala Kids with her husband, Brian, put her merchandise losses alone at $8,000 for damaged strollers, car seats and children's clothing.

"It's a lot," Kaupiko said. "I don't even want to think about it. I just know I have to re-open on Tuesday so I can recoup my sales."

Kaupiko helped organize merchants into donating their still-usable goods to Goodwill Industries. Mall officials said yesterday they have to determine how and when they will deliver the merchandise.

Scott Creel, regional marketing director for Kahala Mall, said each store has its own insurance policies, which vary with the amount of coverage.

Teixeira promised to return possibly as soon as today with a team of state and perhaps Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to begin doing separate preliminary damage assessments, which could make the businesses eligible for government assistance, said Ray Lovell, spokesman for state Civil Defense.

The flood was restricted to the interior of the mall.

Exterior businesses such as Star Market, Chili's Grill & Bar and I Love Country Cafe Express were unaffected and operating yesterday. Even some interior stores with separate entrances like California Pizza Kitchen and Macy's were serving customers.

Outside the mall entrance, people kept trying to get in or at least steal a peek at the damage.

"We just wanted to see what it looked like," said Tammy Solem, a registered nurse from Palolo. "We were just curious."

Her father, Keith Voget, who is visiting from Northern California, said, "It's just my curiosity as a tourist that was aroused. I've been in shock and awe because I can't believe the amount of rain."

When the water hit Radio Shack on Friday, Gary Hashimoto, the store's senior manager, walked onto the sales floor to see employees stuffing paper towels under the door.

"There was just no stopping the water," Hashimoto said. "It was moving too quickly."

Hashimoto worried about the live power outlets underneath the soggy carpet and quickly shut off the store's circuit breakers. He ran into the mall and started yelling at business owners to shut off their power, grab their cash and leave immediately.

Kahala security guards evacuated everyone for about six hours.

When he returned to Radio Shack, Hashimoto and his employees spent six more hours ripping out the drenched carpet and piling up soaked merchandise from both the store and its underground storage unit.

"You have to worry about mold and mildew," Hashimoto said. "I'm a hunter and a hiker and I always worry about leptospirosis. We don't know what was in that water."

Peter Tabilang, director of Radio Shack Hawai'i, said he doesn't know how extensive the damage is and how long it will take to repair.

Workers will have to dig into the store's sheet rock and replace all of the floor electrical systems.

"We don't know what's going to grow if we do a quick fix," Tabilang said. "We want to do a permanent fix. We don't want to do a quick fix."

On Tuesday, Judy Morita had been troubled by three separate dreams that only flashed with the mysterious numeral "120." As she searched the Internet looking for dream interpretations, Morita came across an article about her former store that had been flooded an article that quoted a psychic saying Morita would have problems with water.

As she drove away from mopping up her soaked Vue Hawai'i store on Friday night, tired and exhausted, Morita finally understood the meaning of her dream three nights before.

"I realized that's when the water reached us," she said, "1:20 in the afternoon."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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