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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Storms gone, but cleanup continues

 •  Disaster Recovery Center on Kaua'i closed Saturday

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

City crews clear rocks and muck from Wai'alae Stream, but jurisdictional divisions prevented workers from cleaning under a nearby state-owned bridge where more rocks and debris had collected.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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DISASTER RECOVERY CENTERS

WHEN: Noon to 8 p.m. until Friday. Kaua'i center also open Monday, noon to 8 p.m.

WHERE:

O'ahu: Kualoa Ranch

49-560 Kamehameha Highway

Kaua'i: Kaua'i War Memorial Convention Hall

4191 Hardy Street, Lihu'e

To apply for help, call (800) 621-3362 or go to www.fema.gov/assistance/.

The TTY number is (800) 462-7585.

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Chris and Michelle Walker of Kahalu'u consult with Tom Youngblood, customer service representative with the Small Business Administration, one of a number of agencies at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Recovery Center at Kualoa Ranch. They hoped to recover some $13,000 in losses to property in Keolu Heights, but came away disappointed.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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KUALOA Weeks after heavy rains slammed O'ahu and Kaua'i, state and federal officials continued their outreach to some residents who are frustrated because they can't get the government to help with their cleanup.

Chris and Michelle Walker spent two hours yesterday in a recovery center at Kualoa Ranch. They had hoped to recover some $13,000 in losses to their property in Kailua's Keolu Heights that was caused by a March 27 downpour, but came away disappointed.

"We don't fit anywhere so it was very frustrating," said Michelle Walker after an interview with a representative from the U.S. Small Business Administration. "They were very nice. They tried to be helpful."

The rain caused a slide on the Walkers' property that spilled onto neighbors' land and a road. Chris Walker said he cleaned up the mess but believes the slide was caused by water buildup on military-owned land next to his property.

"I got the neighbors happy," he said. "I got all the stuff repaired. In here, it's like if it's not your personal residence they can't do nothing."

The opening of two disaster recovery centers one here and one on Kaua'i wasn't the only sign the work is still going on. Across town, city crews did the tough work of cleaning debris from stream beds to prevent flooding during the next deluge.

One crew used a small bulldozer and a crane to clear Wai'alae Stream near where Kalaniana'ole Highway turns into the H-1 Freeway.

But the crew couldn't clean under the state-owned bridge where more rock and debris had collected. City and state officials say such jurisdictional divisions impede efforts to clear streams, which are crucial to preventing overflow.

YEAR-ROUND WORK

No definitive answer emerged as to when the stream will be cleared.

"Kalaniana'ole Highway is a state highway and they own the drainage underneath the highway," said Larry Leopardi, chief of the city's road maintenance division. "They take care of their own jurisdiction and we take care of ours."

The work goes on year-round, he said.

"We're always out there cleaning streams, storm drains and catch basins," Leopardi said. "Our crews go out every day. You may have more out there after a rain event or before a rain event."

Sheila Deal said her family has a way to go before all the clean-up and repairs are done at her Hau'ula home. Her home flooded three times, sustaining about $27,000 in damage during the storms that lasted more than 40 days. She hoped the more than a dozen agencies at the center from the state and Federal Emergency Management Agency could help.

She inquired about her son's lingering illness after exposure to overflow from cesspools, talking with officials from the state Department of Health. She also checked with the Red Cross about its programs. She was given a teddy bear and bedspreads to take home.

QUALIFYING IS KEY

Although the start of the session was slow, FEMA spokesman Ken Higginbotham said more people were expected after work and the center would remain open until Friday.

People must qualify for the services and funding was made available through a presidential disaster declaration issued last week, Higginbotham said, urging people to register first.

"Qualifying is the operative word and there are many variables in that equation," he said. "We're not here to make people whole again. We're here to get people back onto the road to recovery and make sure people are back into a safe, sanitary and secure environment."

Deal wasn't sure if she would be getting any help at the center.

"They want to help, but they don't know how," she said.

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.