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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 6, 2006

Schools mop up to ward off mosquitoes

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

MJ Matsushita, learning center coordinator for the Kaimuki Performing Arts Center, shows a damaged section of the high school auditorium stage. Flooding also destroyed the lights that were on the floor.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Schools are still dealing with the effects of storms that have pummeled the state for seven weeks, soaking classrooms and playing fields, along with neighborhoods, movie theaters, a mall and countless homes.

A total of 13 schools on O'ahu sustained some kind of damage from Ka'a'awa to Wailupe Valley to Kailua and officials had to figure out what to do with wet carpets, damp books and flooded fields.

Now comes the worry of mosquitoes.

But the clouds that brought flooding over the past month to Ka'a'awa had a silver lining. News of Ka'a'awa's misfortune inspired third-graders at Wheeler Elementary School to collect books and games and toys as part of their Hearts of Gold project to help children in that community.

One girl gave $150 of her Christmas money to help.

"Her mother said her daughter wanted to give the money because if they had been in the same boat, they would hope someone would do the same for them," said Wheeler third-grade teacher Dana Shishido.

As communities and schools mopped up, the schools affected by flooding were taking special precautions to thwart any bloom of mosquitoes and spread of bacteria.

"We're putting one part water and one part Clorox on the still water to kill the mosquitoes," said Sam Ko, principal at Wailupe Valley Elementary. Wailupe Valley was one of the schools hardest hit by flooding.

"It's going to be a statewide concern because of the mosquito problem and that's what we're solving right now," he said.

Ko said two of his school's classrooms were flooded, but it affected the entire campus.

"We were flooded the first week of spring break and then again on Friday and the teachers were here practically every day and on Saturday and Sunday," Ko said. "We juggled classrooms and combined two classes to make space for the others, so six classes were affected."

Workers dug trenches around the school to divert water, and yesterday, Norman Nakamoto, building maintenance district supervisor for the Honolulu district, expected to bring equipment in to widen and deepen the trench to drain any remaining water off campus.

Wet carpeting in two rooms had to be pulled out.

Francis Cheung, Department of Education maintenance branch chief, has been the central figure in handling the larger cleanup operations, including a rush of water at Kaimuki High that came through the auditorium's double doors Friday and pooled a foot deep in the orchestra pit. The water was discovered only on Sunday when a church used the auditorium, Cheung said.

The carpeting was ruined and had to be removed, said Scot Sueoka, DOE acting construction superintendent for O'ahu. Church and school officials removed the water Sunday and his crew pulled out the carpet Monday, Sueoka said.

At 'Aikahi Elementary in Kailua, rugs in four classrooms were drenched.

In dealing with wet carpets, steam-cleaning has been one answer. And some rugs have been disinfected.

Cheung's crews spent Friday dispensing sandbags to keep water out of threatened classrooms. They diverted water from many of the schools and expect to leave the sandbags with the schools just in case. Workers were even busy over the weekend.

At 'Aina Haina Elementary, nine rooms were flooded on Friday, and teachers, staff and other personnel worked through the weekend to make sure the school was ready for students Monday.

"All of our classrooms in our B building, the carpets were all wet," said office staffer Darice Kruse. "But they finished steaming them on Friday.

"The teachers have damaged books as well, and one had her laptop on the floor and it wouldn't turn on. But the kids were out for spring break, so that's the reason we needed to get it done before Monday."

Mosquitoes also are a concern at Ka'a'awa Elementary. While the buildings weren't affected, the yard was flooded so badly a month ago that it's still wet and students haven't had recess since, said Principal Todd Watanabe.

Watanabe is worried especially because the school is just across the road from mountains and a forest, potential mosquito-breeding areas.

Some nearby properties still have standing water, even though crews have been working to get the areas drained, he said.

"The city has been pumping out our community like crazy, pumping out the back roads, and as a service, the cesspools of a number of our residents at no charge. All of that helps. Until it rains again."

Because of concerns about overflowing cesspools, Wata-nabe said school officials are taking extra precautions to sterilize rooms daily.

"There's a disinfectant we spray on our carpeted rooms and mop our tiled rooms daily," he said. "And we just remind the kids to wash their hands regularly and stay on the walkways as much as possible."

The Ka'a'awa community overall has been so heavily affected that Wheeler Elementary's third-grade students were inspired to collect enough toys, books and games to give every one of the 142 children in Ka'a'awa Elementary a gift.

The Wheeler student who donated $150 of her own savings also inspired her little sister to donate $20, Shishido said. Another student, a boy, donated a bike.

The school used the donated money to buy additional books and games.

Tomorrow, about 65 of the Wheeler third-graders will travel with the principal to present their gifts to the Ka'a'awa schoolchildren.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.