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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 23, 2006

Heavy hearts, hope, uncertainty in Kilauea

 •  Kaua'i dam inspections reveal 'red flags'

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer


Disaster Assistance and Recovery Centers are scheduled to open for one day at the following locations on Kaua'i: Kilauea Neighborhood Center, tomorrow, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call (808) 241-1800.

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A week and a day after heavy rains ripped apart Kaua'i's Kaloko Reservoir dam and unleashed a torrent of devastation across Wailapa Stream valley, Kilauea residents are still trying to cope with the loss of seven lives, the mess, and the reality.

For Leesa Perry that included giving the heartbreaking news to her daughter, McKenna, that "Auntie Aurora" wouldn't be coming to baby-sit.

Aurora Fehring, 24, and her husband, Alan Dingwall, 30, along with Christina Macnees, 22, are three of the known dead from the flash flood that swept away a home and two huts on the property owned by the Fehring family.

Search teams yesterday had yet to find the bodies of 2-year-old Rowan Fehring-Dingwall; Macnees' fiance, Daniel Arroyo, 33; Wayne Rotstein, 49; and Timothy Noonan, 37.

Perry said in addition to baby-sitting, Aurora Fehring was McKenna's summer camp teacher last year. Leesa and her husband, Gordon Perry, were expected to sign the child up again this year.

Instead, they told her the sad news.

"Of course, she cried," said Perry, whose daughter turned 6 yesterday. "So, it directly affected us. It's just a huge loss to the whole community."

The flash flood blasted out a sizable chunk of two-lane Kuhio Highway, the only road in and out of Kaua'i's North Shore. For the day and a half the road was shut down, stranded residents and Princeville hotel and condo visitors flocked to area gas stations and markets. Pumps were drained and shelves emptied.

Since then one lane of the highway has been opened, allowing traffic to move and needed provisions to be brought in. The supply scare has subsided, Perry said.

"We all have our water back on, we all have our power, and phone lines," she said.

But John and Kim Brady, who live on Kahili Makai Street, a short distance from where the Fehring residences had been, worry about a lack of official information.

"We're waiting to find out what our next step is," John Brady said. "Right now, everything is just sitting. There are just enormous piles of debris, and there's a bizarre smell in the air.

"We're worried about what kind of chemicals might be in the river that's right next to our house. We're also worried about the bug problem the mosquitos are horrendous."

Brady said he hadn't seen any health officials in the area checking out the damage. He said what he'd like to happen is for county officials to appraise them of the situation.

"If we could get some county guys or the mayor to come in and say, 'Here's what we're going to do, the plan is we're going to bring in heavy equipment and we're going to slowly clean this up,' or whatever," he said.

Even as Brady was speaking, Carole and Terry Wells were on their way to a meeting with a U.S. Department of Agriculture official to discuss getting federal relief to help with the loss of 400 mature Honduras mahogany trees that snapped like twigs under the force of thousands of tons of rapidly moving water.

"We got hit big time," said Carole Wells, who said the flood wiped out a third of the couple's agra forest operation. "That was the heart and soul of our business."

The Wellses believe their mahogany forest saved their home, and very possibly their lives, by diverting the water.

Neighbors of the Wellses, including the Perrys and Bradys, described the sound of hundreds of tree trunks cracking in half as unlike anything they'd ever heard.

"Physically, it's just an unbelievable mess," Wells said. "We don't have the manpower, we don't have the equipment. It's going to take huge heavy equipment to clean it up."

Yet the Wellses said that losing their neighbors was far worse than all the mess, the inconvenience, the loss of property and the threat of additional heavy rains to come.

"That's the most devastating thing in the world," Wells said. "I knew these kids. Our place was the pathway of the neighborhood. They've walked through our yard every day since they were little."

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.