Rising germ levels close additional beaches
WAIKIKI — Bacteria levels off some parts of Waikiki have risen for two consecutive days, keeping beaches closed next to the Outrigger, Sheraton, Halekulani and Royal Hawaiian hotels.
Hopes were high that yesterday's sunshine would help reduce contamination along Waikiki Beach, even though more warning signs went up and the off-limits zone extended closer to Diamond Head.
The beaches with the increased bacteria counts on Saturday and Sunday were east of the mouth of the Ala Wai Canal, where a sewer-main break last week spilled 48 million gallons of untreated sewage into the ocean. There is a 24-hour lag in the release of state Department of Health results from bacteria tests, so the beaches could be opened today.
Paula Maxwell, a flight attendant from Quebec, was one of several tourists heeding yesterday's warning signs, which were plastered along Waikiki's beaches.
"I don't want to go into the water and end up getting sick," she said, adding that she met two girls from Quebec who went swimming here last week and "and have been sick since then."
The bacteria officials are concerned about are clostridium, which are found in feces and for some reason aren't dispersing as quickly as other bacteria that were released in the sewage spill. The clostridium count was higher at the Halekulani-Sheraton, the Moana and Ala Moana Beach Park on Sunday than the day before. At the same time, counts for enterococcus bacteria are dropping.
The counts were puzzling to state officials, who didn't want to release them until another test result was calculated, said Kurt Tsue, DOH spokesman.
"They wanted to hold off on the results because they are confusing," Tsue said. "Usually, the indicator bacteria are consistent with each other: Either they're both up or they're both down."
City officials released the information late yesterday.
State officials will wait to see today's data, Tsue said. If the numbers go down, officials will discuss taking down the signs.
"We're hoping it will dissipate because of the current and the sun," Tsue said.
The National Weather Service said there may be early morning showers today, but that doesn't mean bad weather has returned.
"The atmosphere has become more stable," said Jonathan Hoag, a forecaster with the weather service. "This week the forecast is for trade winds, which implies the typical few showers in the mountain and windward areas and less rain on the leeward side.
"This (43 days of rain) was very unique. The only similar pattern of prolonged southwestern, unstable conditions happened in the early 1950s. You're not going to see prolonged periods like we just had," he said.
The warning signs that were posted between the Moana and the Hilton lagoon yesterday said it all: "Keep Out of Water, No Swimming, No Surfing, Sewage Contaminated Water, Exposure to Water May Cause Illness."
The beaches were eerily empty where the signs were posted, and a crew of workers from the city Department of Environmental Services aggressively patrolled water's edge, urging people to not even get their feet and ankles wet in the shorebreak.
The signs were printed in English and Japanese. When wayward beachgoers ventured close enough to get their feet wet, a city worker would move in and strongly advise them to get out and to rinse off as soon as possible.
The city workers said no one refused to leave the water, which ranged from a green hue and mostly clear near the Hilton lagoon to a turbid brown in front of the Halekulani.
Tourists and residents alike were doing their best to cope.
The Barry family, from Seattle, was spending part of its first day in Hawai'i on the beach behind the Hale Koa hotel.
Patriarch Tom Barry said it was "a little disappointing" to find millions of gallons of raw sewage had fouled the water.
"But there are a lot of other beaches. We come here every year, so we know where they are. We're not the biggest water sports enthusiasts anyway," Barry said.
But son Colin, 15, who learned to surf during previous visits, said he was eager to get into the water. "It would be nice to go in to cool off, especially since we've been lying on the beach here for quite a while," he said.
University of Hawai'i student Hannah Montgomery had the beach in front of the Hale Koa almost to herself. "I try to come down to this area, because it's a little less crowded, whenever I have time."
With the sun blazing, the temperature rising and the humidity soaring, a dip in the ocean under normal circumstances would have been refreshing, Montgomery said, but she wasn't taking any chances.
Lifeguard Kalai Robins started work at 10 a.m. yesterday, and later in the morning, pronounced the beach at Fort DeRussy "really empty for this time of year." He said he had asked "just a couple" of beachgoers to stay away from the water.
"Some of them were asking questions about why they couldn't go in the water," he said. "They seemed a little frustrated, but they're on vacation, you know."