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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Federal disaster relief on way

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

President Bush yesterday declared a major disaster in the February and March floods, which qualifies the Islands for federal disaster relief.

"President Bush understands that, unlike many disasters which threaten people and property for a few hours or a few days, this was a prolonged disaster lasting nearly six weeks," said Gov. Linda Lingle in a news release.

Bush's declaration cites "damage resulting from severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides."

"The Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency , will coordinate federal assistance efforts and designate specific areas eligible for such assistance," the president's letter said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Small Business Administration and FEMA soon will make announcements about how residents with losses can apply for disaster assistance, the governor's office said.

"We're delighted," said Ed Teixeira, vice director of state Civil Defense.

He said a federal disaster assistance coordinating officer has been appointed, is on his way to Hawai'i and has scheduled an initial meeting with Teixeira tomorrow.

The state estimates that damage from the failure of the Kaloko Reservoir dam and severe flooding on Kaua'i and O'ahu from Feb. 20 to late March could exceed $50 million.

The flooding from the Kaloko dam breach killed seven people on Kaua'i. Statewide, floods destroyed 10 homes and caused major damage to 130 more, Teixeira said.

Residents lost cars and appliances, farmers lost crops, governments lost roads and drainage systems, and county, state and federal agencies suffered budget overruns from the cost of staffing the emergency.

Even after the return of sunny weather, the National Guard continues cleaning up beaches on the North Shore of O'ahu, and government agencies are working on the paperwork involved in documenting flood losses.

One of the big losers, the Gay & Robinson sugar company on Kaua'i, is estimating total losses of $8 million to $12 million, said company president Alan Kennett. That includes an estimated $4.5 million in crop losses over three years from damage to standing sugar fields, plus the cost of repairing and in some cases replacing the plantation's 100 miles of roads, and repairing flood-damaged irrigation systems.

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, said the U.S. Senate as early as today may vote to approve $33.5 million in disaster funds for Hawai'i with the vote on the 2006 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill. Just yesterday, Inouye said, the Senate defeated an attempt by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to strip the bill of $6 million in emergency relief for Hawai'i's sugar companies.

Inouye said McCain argued that the sugar money was inappropriate since President Bush had not yet issued his emergency declaration. The Senate rejected McCain's amendment by a 59-40 vote. Bush's disaster declaration came only hours later.

Teixeira said the primary recipient of the money in the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill will be federal agencies directly involved in the response to the Hawai'i flood disaster.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.