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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 25, 2006

Two homes destroyed, 55 damaged

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye inspected damage caused by the March 14 dam breach with Maj. Gen. Robert Lee of the Hawai'i National Guard.

JAYMES SONG | Associated Press

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Kaua'i residents and farmers may seek assistance at Disaster Assistance & Recovery Centers open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today at the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center.

People who need help cleaning up from the flooding can call the Aloha United Way's 211 line for more information. Members of the Hawai'i State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters are offering general cleaning and debris removal assistance.

For more information on state agricultural loans, call the Agricultural Loan Division on O'ahu at 973-9460 or call the state Department of Agriculture's Kaua'i office at 274-3069.

Information also is available on the division's Web site.

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An updated damage assessment released yesterday said more than 50 homes on Kaua'i suffered damage as a result of the recent rains and reservoir breach in which seven people died.

The Red Cross yesterday reported that 57 homes on Kaua'i were affected by the rains. Of those, two were destroyed and four others sustained major damage, the Red Cross said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, said he is seeking $15 million to $30 million in emergency federal aid to help the county recover. Also, the destruction of crops on the island prompted Gov. Linda Lingle to request a federal disaster declaration to help farmers.

Yesterday, about 50 residents in the Kilauea area went to the Disaster Assistance & Recovery Centers, which was set up at the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center, to request assistance.

The center's doors opened 30 minutes early because of the line of nearly two dozen people.

Among those seeking help was Bruce Fehring, who lost members of his family when the dam broke in the early-morning hours of March 14, unleashing 300 million gallons and sweeping away two houses on his property.

"We need help right now," said Ben Guevara, who lives next-door to Fehring and saw a large portion of his backyard washed away.

"Somebody's got to help pay for this here."

Guevara said the dam break has left major problems at his home on Wailapa Road including mountains of debris, bacteria concerns and diesel fuel that leaked into the water.

"We just want everything back to normal, nothing more," he said.

Inouye surveyed the disaster area by helicopter with state and county officials and visited the recovery center.

The senator said he was impressed with the cleanup efforts and hopes the state completes a damage assessment within two weeks so he can go before Congress and make a request for emergency money this fiscal year.

Inouye said it won't be easy to get emergency funding because Kaua'i will be competing with everything from the war in Iraq to the damage from Hurricane Katrina.

"There's a limited amount of money," he said. "However, if it's declared a disaster, it makes our job easier."

Lingle's request, sent to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, would make Hawai'i farmers eligible for low-interest federal loans to help recover from damage that occurred from Feb. 20 to March 26.

"It is critically important that our farmers on Kaua'i, Ni'ihau and O'ahu get the help they need today," Lingle said in a statement. "This extended period of heavy rain has decimated many crops to the point where it will take several months or more for most farmers to recover."

The request was made based on preliminary data that has been collected by state and federal agriculture officials that meet the criteria of at least 30 percent crop losses in each county.

"The quicker we start the process for a federal disaster declaration, the faster our farmers can get their fields back into production," said Sandra Lee Kunimoto, chairwoman of the Hawai'i Board of Agriculture.

"The state is already processing emergency low-interest loans for affected farmers, and the disaster declaration will bring additional resources and aid."

The final reports from emergency dam assessments by the Army Corps of Engineers and engineers with Kaua'i County and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources were not finalized yesterday, said Ray Lovell, a spokesman for state Civil Defense.

Engineers assessed all 54 Kaua'i dams following the March 14 breach of the Kaloko Reservoir dam. Seven people were reported missing after the breach, and rescuers found three bodies.

Bob Masuda, DLNR deputy director, said his people are in the process of finalizing their reports that were generated from the week on Kaua'i.

"We're kind of at that stage where we are beat," he said. "We had a duty to make sure that we could ensure the people with confidence. The island does need a few weeks of dry weather."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.