Flood cleanup begins
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Flooded communities from Kahuku to Waimanalo struggled today to clear away soggy debris after the heaviest winter rains in some time.
Parts of O'ahu got nearly 2 feet of rain in the 72 hours that ended at 5 a.m. yesterday, the National Weather Service said. No serious injuries were reported but the mess left over as the water drains will take days to deal with.
State officials plan to use a helicopter today to check on people in areas where emergency crews could not reach yesterday by land.
La'ie resident Kela Miller, who had as much as 4 feet of water in her home, said she expects to spend the weekend cleaning up.
The 61-year-old, who lives in a two-bedroom home with her husband and granddaughter, lost much of her furniture, including a television, beds, a couch and chairs. She was able to save her grandfather's diary, even though it got wet.
But it could have been worse: At one point the water poured into her home while the electricity was still on.
"Someone could have been electrocuted," Miller said. "I'm just fortunate. I might have lost some things but we didn't lose any lives."
Officials yesterday still did not have thorough damage assessment of the drenched Windward communities and authorities still did not know how many homes and businesses were flooded.
State officials intend to take a Hawai'i Air National Guard helicopter aloft this morning to check on the condition of residents, homes and farmlands in areas where dirt valley roads have been flooded or torn up by the storms and emergency crews have not been able to access.
Civil Defense public information officer Ray Lovell said a National Guard flight yesterday indicated there was considerable flooding of farm land. He said he expected that National Guard troops would be out this morning to assist in the recovery.
DISASTER AREA UP CLOSE
City Managing Director Wayne Hashiro led a group of eight city officials through the disaster area yesterday afternoon.
"There's at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage," said city councilman Donovan Dela Cruz, who was part of the tour.
Flooding, debris on the beaches and erosion were substantial, Dela Cruz said. Stream banks fell in, trees washed to the ocean and everywhere people pumped out their homes.
"The erosion is so bad you can see roots from trees and trees falling into the streams," he said.
Larry Leopardi, director of the city's Division of Road Maintenance, said the Hau'ula area and the Ka'a'awa area have never seen as much water as they did over the past few days.
"It is a huge amount of water," he said.
Road crews worked two pumps much of yesterday in Ka'a'awa trying to move water to lower elevations on the makai side of Kamehameha Highway, Leopardi said.
"But there is so much water out there it has no place to go," he said. "The water is just ponding."
Ed Teixeira, state vice director of civil defense, said that at least 10 to 20 homes flooded but he predicted that tally would rise after a more accurate damage assessment is conducted. The most flooding occurred between Kahuku and Kahalu'u, he said.
Teixeira said the only public school damage he knew of came at Kahuku High School where the gym had flooded "and floorboards were popping up."
STATE OF EMERGENCY
Six Red Cross volunteers canvassed neighborhoods yesterday trying to get a handle on the problem.
"I know there are a lot of homes that are underwater," said Gail Higashi, O'ahu disaster coordinator of the Hawai'i chapter of the American Red Cross.
The Red Cross did not yet know how many homes or residents were affected, she said.
"I understand that in the Ka'a'awa area, it was virtually inaccessible at one point," Higashi said. "I can't imagine how big the scope of this is right now."
The Red Cross trucked in bottled water yesterday afternoon and will return today with brooms, mops, buckets, sponges and cleaning solution — all $5,000 worth of it donated by Wal-Mart — to help residents recover, Higashi said.
O'ahu Civil Defense crews also were in the area checking city property and equipment, said spokesman John Cummings.
The flooding prompted the city to declare a state of emergency yesterday. The declaration allows the city to apply for federal disaster relief.
The city's move followed an emergency proclamation signed Thursday night by Gov. Linda Lingle to help residents and businesses affected by recent floods.
Lingle's action authorizes the use of the National Guard for disaster relief, public safety and debris removal, according to a statement by state Civil Defense. It also activates loan programs and the state Major Disaster Fund.
WATERFALL ON PALI
Thousands of Pali Highway motorists were inconvenienced yesterday by Kailua-bound lane closures that lasted most of the day. State transportation officials turned back motorists at Waokanaka Road — including afternoon rush hour commuters — because a waterfall continually drenched the right lane on the Kailua side of the Pali tunnels.
"We can't open up the road until the waterfall recedes," said Scott Ishikawa, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. "Until someone turns off the fire hose, I don't think we can open up the highway."
At 7:15 last night, the Pali was reopened in both directions, Ishikawa said.
He said a clogged culvert on the Old Pali Road above the highway contributed to the "Niagara Falls situation." But workers diverted the water to another drain and the waterfall seemed to have subsided.
Wilfred Ho, district manager for Windward parks, said Windward parks were open except for Kualoa Regional Park. Water as deep as 1 1/2 feet remained on roads and in the campground area at Kualoa, he said.
The park is closed because of the ponding and because the city isn't able to pump its sewage holding tanks, Ho said. Toilets can't be flushed so beach users and campers must be kept out, he said.
"With all this water in the park we don't want to expose anybody to any potential health risk," he said. "People don't realize that a lot of this water is coming from Kualoa Ranch and is coming through the pastures."
8 SEWAGE SPILLS
The heavy runoff caused eight sewage spills and fouled coastal waters on the Windward side, the city Department of Environmental Services said. All told, a total of 178,350 gallons of untreated wastewater spilled from treatment facilities, manholes and storm drains, the city said.
The largest single spill, 102,000 gallons of rain-diluted sewage, spilled out of the Kane'ohe Wastewater Pre-Treatment Facility and reached Kane'ohe Bay, a city news release said.
About 1,000 gallons of sewage spilled from the Kailua Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant and entered a gully that leads to the ocean near Waimanalo Beach.
Other spills came from the Waimanalo Treatment Plant and from manholes at Nahiku Street in Kane'ohe and at Hele Street and Wana'ao Road in Kailua.
DIRTY BEACHES, CATFISH
Harmful viruses and pathogens may be growing unchecked along Windward beaches due to a combination of heavy runoff and low sunlight, said Watson Okubo, supervisor for the monitoring and analysis section of the state Department of Health's Clean Water Branch.
The Health Department has had crews testing water samples all week to check for fecal matter, but Okubo said the water was probably contaminated because of the high concentration of cesspools along the flooded coastline.
The weather made for some odd sights.
Kailua residents Elizabeth Kent and Kent Davis came across dozens of catfish on Waimanalo Beach yesterday. The freshwater fish had apparently washed out of a stream or drainage canal into the ocean.
"Some of them were crawling up the beach — you know how they can slither. We thought they were trying to get back to fresh water," Elizabeth Kent said.
A lifeguard collected the fish in a bucket and said he planned to release them back into a freshwater habitat, she said.Staff writer Jan Tenbruggencate contributed to this report.