Monday, Dec. 4, 2023 |
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Lives of the majority of the Haena lost would undoubtedly have been saved if the Alohikea home, near the school had been chosen as the place of refuge instead of the wave-tossed little Mormon chapel.
The Alohikea home was not sought, for the reason that the Mormon Church is on higher ground. The home is still standing while the church was destroyed and with it went the lives of nine persons.
Like chapters torn out of a thrilling adventure story, the experiences of twelve of the sixty surviving residents were narrated personally in a series of interviews conducted by The Garden Island’s Charles J. Fern last Wednesday afternoon. The interviews took place the kitchen of the Wainiha in valley four-room Kimikeo Kanei cottage, where twenty-one survivors were living together. Transcribed through portable radio equipment, it was broadcast on a two-hour program over KTOH later that evening.
Aquinas Is Hero
All attributed the saving of about ten lives to the lone Haena Filipino resident, Hilario Aquinas. When the first wave flooded the area he rushed out of his house into his car, and began gathering the children of his neighbors. His intention was to reach the main road and approach Lihue way. He was stopped by the second wave, which covered the flat land, and was forced to turn back and take the children – nine in all – to the Mormon church.
Those who reached the church including Aquinas and his car load were: Mrs. Edwin David Laamea Jr. and her nine children, the Edward Puulei family with six children, Mr. and Mrs. Herman Kalani of Honolulu and their two infants, Mrs. Eddie Lindsay and her daughter, Vickey, Mrs. Hanohano, the mother of Mrs. Kalani, and 70-year old aged Leong Young Chew.
Altogether there were 26 in the church, nine adults and 17 children ranging in age from 3 weeks to 14 years.
When the waves hit the church, the church was lifted and with it the people. It then collapsed and Mr. Aquinas was tossed into the seething water with the children and adults.
After the big wave, he swam about rescuing the children and lifting them up into the large trees behind the church yard.
He doesn’t remember how many lives he saved in all, but the count is probably ten, says the Haenians.
Seven children and elderly Chinese were missing when the last wave receded, leaving water waist high.
While all this was taking place, David Laamea Jr., who lost three children and whose wife’s leg was broken, was on duty at the fire-station in Hanalei. He first learned about the disaster from the men who came to relieve him at 7 o’clock. He left immediately to aid his family. He waded across the Wainiha river, went over lantana covered hills, and on top of one of the hills met Mr. Hanohano and party.
As they didn’t know of the whereabouts of members of his family; he went down hill into the water and brush again, and in time found his wife hanging on to a tree near the Mormon church with her leg broken at the knee. He managed to carry her to dry land where help in the form of Henry Gomes, ex-serviceman, who works nights at the Wainiha powerhouse, arrived.
Gomes, who took over the duties of “Director of Evacuation: Relief” had organized a rescue squad composed of Fred and Saburo Fujii, Harry Hanohano, Kimokeo Kanei, and an Okinawan, all residents of the powerhouse village.
When the men got to the top of the mountain, they saw Mr. Laamea and rushed to his aid.
Give First Aid
They stripped themselves of their clothing to wrap about the injured woman and they obtained a stretcher from the Haena school. With four men hacking a path through the lantana bushes, they carried her across the mountain to the road to the powerhouse. There she was given some first aid. They then forded the streams and took her to the Kilauea dispensary where an ambulance took her on to Lihue.
When the men went back to the devastated area, they took aid with them in the personage of Miss Willa Shell, a dimunitive public health nurse. Recently arrived from the mainland, she was at the dispensary at the time Mrs. David Laamea was brought in, and she volunteered her services.
Miss Shell, the first outside aid to get into the devastated area, spent a straight 36 hours administering first aid and giving aid to the stricken people.
Jack Nishimoto, principal of Koolau School, had a home in Haena. The first to reach the village from the outside, he walked from Hanalei to Haena wading through streams waist deep where the bridges were down. His 70-year old- Chinese caretaker, Leong Young Chew, was missing, as well as his two nieces and one nephew, the children of Mr. and Mrs. Laamea.
The first impression he had, outside of the tragedy, he said, was the lack of police organization and assistance. The first policeman he saw, he continued, was late Monday afternoon. It developed that Nishimoto was off in his time as no police officer arrived in Haena until Tuesday morning. In the Interview, he said, he had seen no effort on the part of the police to render assistance.
Many people thought that Haena was not hit by the waves as the Doiron home, a two-story structure on the beach side of the main road opposite the Haena school, is still standing. This home is one of the first homes seen as one approaches Haena; it stands just a few feet from the water’s edge. Mrs. Lily Doiron, who witnessed the destruction of the Laamea and Nishimoto homes near her own, vows that the power of prayer brought about the miracle.
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