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Kuhio Highway reopens

KILAUEA — Thousands of residents and visitors stranded on the North Shore since Tuesday morning when the Kaloko Reservoir dam breached, sending millions of gallons of water down Wailapa Stream, can once again leave via Kuhio Highway.

The Tuesday flash flood swamped a cluster of homes, leaving two dead and five others missing.

Kuhio Highway had been closed between milemarkers 21 and 22 after flooding over-ran a portion of the road and weakened it.

Shortly after a helicopter tour of the disaster area with officials and media Wednesday morning, Gov. Linda Lingle attended a community meeting at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center and told more than 350 audience members that one lane of the two-lane highway would open up by 3 p.m. Wednesday. That proclamation proved to be close to the mark, as the road reopened shortly after 4 p.m.

“We intend to open the road in one direction with traffic control by at least 3 p.m. today,” said Brennon Morioka, deputy director of the state Department of Transportation’s Highways Division, drawing cheers.

The news of the reopening of the road came hours after the body of a woman was found in the stream bed that makes up the Wailapa Stream, which overflowed with a massive flow of water from the Kaloko Reservoir.

The body of a man was found in waters about a mile from the Kilauea coastline Tuesday. The other five remain missing.

Authorities identified the missing as Daniel Arroyo, Alan Dingwall, Aurora Fehring, Rowan Fehring-Dingwall, Christina Macnees, Timothy Noonan and Wayne Rotstein, most of whom are residents of Wailapa Road in Kilauea.

They were staying in a compound of homes that was swept away by the flooding.

The search for the missing people was augmented by 12 search specialists with the Honolulu Fire Department and the Honolulu Police Department who had arrived on Kaua’i Tuesday.

They were assisted by six dogs that have been trained to find the missing folks.

Joining Lingle in the early morning helicopter tour of Kilauea, including the stream in which homes washed away with the victims, was Mayor Bryan Baptiste, state Adj. Gen. Robert Lee, Kaua’i Sen. Gary Hooser, House Rep. Hermina Morita, in whose district the disaster occurred, Kaua’i County Council Chairman Kaipo Asing, Gov. Lingle’s Chief of Staff Bob Awana and Brennon Morioka, the deputy director of the state Department of Transportation’s Highways Division.

Also participating in the 30-minute aerial survey were members of the media.

All were taken to the disaster site by two Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopters sent to Kaua’i, on a request from Baptiste to Gen. Lee, from the Big Island.

To the cheers of audience members at the meeting, Lingle said her priorities were to open the road, reduce the water level in the Morita Reservoir and to search for the missing people.

She and Baptiste pledged $1 million dollars in state funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and funds from state and county agencies and other help.

Getting the road reopened had high priority for many attending the community meeting.

The closure of the highway had caused financial hardships for some residents and had triggered panic buying at stores on the North Shore.

Visitors also were hard pressed to find ways to get back to the Lihu’e Airport to catch flights back home. Some took helicopter and airplane flights out of the Princeville Airport.

The road closure left residents apprehensive.

Drew Forsyth of Kilauea said he is a concert sound engineer and needed to get to New York on Thursday. “If I can’t get to New York tomorrow (Thursday), yeah, its going to affect me,” he said.

Forsyth said he didn’t feel isolated, because “we have our cell phones, electricity is still on.”

“None of those things are an issue,” he said. “It is just getting out of Kilauea.”

John Pflender, a commercial plumber, said he is “cut off” from going to work sites on the other side of the island.

He said he has jobs on the North Shore he can get to, but noted a steady diet of that type of work would cut into his livelihood.

“I can’t get to my jobs in Moloa’a or Anahola,” he said. “If this cuts us off for very long, it could really be serious.”

Hoarding groceries has emptied shelves of stores on the North Shore because of the closure of the road, said Glenn Frazier, a pastor at the Church of the Pacific at Princeville.

The church normally operates only on Thursday mornings, but will be opened more often to serve emergency food “because of the panic buying at our grocery stores,” Frazier said.

“There are not enough basics for some of our families who didn’t get there (the stores) in time,” Frazier said.

Frazier said the church will provide residents with rice, bread and cheese “to get them through the day until the food trucks actually get back up here.” He said people who want to donate food can call him at 826-6481.

Morioka said there is no time frame on when both the north-bound and the southbound lanes between mile marker 21 and 22 will be reopened, adding “There are questions about the shoulder areas.”

Morioka said that assessment teams, comprising many engineers, will look “at our needs (as they relate to the repair of the road) and what the fixes will be.”

Yesterday, state Department of Transportation and Kaua’i’ County Public Works crews were busily shoring up the shoulders, as Gov. Lingle, her staff and the media, driven to the site, looked on during an inspection of the condition of the road.

Morioka said that the road embankments need to be stabilized further so “we feel comfortable to allow safe travel in both directions.” “Reopening this road is going to be our top priority, because we understand the critical need of community in this area,” Morioka said.

Baptiste said that the road will be opened 24 hours a day, and that two Kaua’i police officers will be posted on each side of the road area where the flooding occurred.

Stream water apparently goes under the highway through culverts, and surged through them and over the road during the flooding.

Morioka also said that the declaration of an emergency by Lingle and Baptiste opens the way for the quick repair of the road.

Morioka said state DOT highway funds will be used initially to make the repairs, but that DOT would be eligible for some reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Baptiste said he has been in contact with FEMA officials to begin the process for filing claims and to seek reimbursements.

Because an emergency exists, the bid process for a contractor to make permanent repairs will be waived, Morioka said.

The delay in the work stemmed from concerns about the stability of the Morita Reservoir, which had threatened to breach, Baptiste said.

Government cleanup workers were on the scene after the flooding from the Kaloko Reservoir Tuesday morning, but they were pulled by mid-morning because of concerns the walls of the Morita Reservoir might give.

Some members of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers came to Kaua’i to assess the stability of the reservoir, which sits down-stream from the Kaloko Reservoir, and what they saw raised eyebrows, Baptiste said.

They “saw erosion off the bankway, and water seeping out in the middle (of the wall),” an indication that the (water) pressure (within the Morita Reservoir) wasn’t relieved … (that) the gate would break again,” Baptiste said.

A person identified as Lance Foo stayed all night at the scene and deepened a spillway to release the pressure, Baptiste said.

“And this morning (Wednesday), we were alerted that enough had been released, so we are not in danger of that anymore,” Baptiste said.

More water was taken out of the reservoir after public works crews mounted huge machinery on the lip of a wall of the reservoir to pump water downstream.

But the danger might never have evolved had the reservoirs not been privately-owned, said Linda Saloka-Pasadava, the president of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association.

“Is it possible that legislation will take place that says … the reservoirs should not be privately-held, but publicly-owned,” she asked.

Morita said the waters are a “public trust,” as part of the state’s water code passed in 1987.

The problem isn’t so much with the water code requirements, but is with the funding for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, whose personnel could have monitored the wall for weaknesses, Morita said.

“What is obvious from this tragedy is that various departments and divisions within the DLNR are not properly funded,” Morita said.

Pasadava also said she and others wanted answers from government, and that she wants to know “what is being done, what is dammed up, what streams are being redirected, so that this never, never happens again in our community.”

Sid Belmonte, a Kilauea resident who was accompanied to the town meeting by his 13-year-old son, said he is 55 years old.

In his many years of living in Kilauea, he said, he has never seen the type of flooding that took place Tuesday morning.

In his mind, the flooding “could have been prevented,” and that many people want to “know who is responsible for the upkeep,” Belmonte said.

Sixty privately-owned reservoirs and some 13 government-managed reservoirs dot the island.

David Sproat, a Kilauea resident and a former Kauai fire chief, said the Kaloko and the Morita Reservoir were created by one-time plantation companies to irrigate sugar fields.

With no more sugar companies around on the north shore, the time for the reservoirs is passed, Sproat said.

The reservoirs were filled by diversions and “today they don’t serve a purpose,” Sproat said.

Lingle said state law stipulates that a private landowner is responsible for the repairs and maintenance of a privately-owned reservoir, and that the state has responsibility for monitoring the reservoirs.

Gov. Lingle lifted the spirits of audience members with news that $500,000 in emergency state funds were available, and that she was able to raise another $500,000 for the emergency.

Lingle said the search for the missing folks, the repair of the damaged highway road and the recovery effort have all been very coordinated, and applauded Baptiste for his work.

“Mayor Baptiste has done a steady, professional job in the past couple of days, in particular,” Lingle said.

Baptiste said 50 federal, state and county emergency personnel have been working around the clock at the county’s Emergency Operating Center in Lihu’e.

Baptiste thanked residents for their patience in waiting for help.

“They (the EOC team) did a good job yesterday in getting these things taken care of, as we took care of things not just here on the North Shore, but all over the island, as we had other incidents (involving potential flooding) as well.”

Lingle said her administration also reacted effectively and quickly, an assessment agreed by Gen. Lee.

Lee said county public works crews have “done a great job” pumping down the Morita Reservoir to prevent it from overflowing and posing additional danger to the community.

At the same time, the Coast Guard responded quickly to reports of the missing folks with helicopter searches and the deployment of the Coast Guard Cutter Washington to Kaua’i to assist with the search.

For the time being, he has put the two Blackhawk helicopters at the disposal of Baptiste so that county emergency teams can “see what they have to see, move and do what they have to do, expeditiously,” Lee said.

Pledges of strong support came from Hooser, Morita and Asing.

“We have lost roads and trees, and we have lost friends and members of our community,” Hooser said. “And that is why I am here, to offer my personal support.”

Hooser said he and other members of Kauai’s legislative delegation, Morita and House Reps. Ezra Kanoho and Bertha Kawakami are ready to raise funds to help Kaua’i.

Asing said political differences aside, his council will support Baptiste and Lingle in bringing normalcy back to the North Shore.

In other matters, Kula School in Kilauea, which had been used as a temporary shelter, will re-open for classes today.

  • Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@

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