Visitor industry responds to Kilauea tragedy

Leaders in the island’s visitor industry have mobilized to try to get hotel rooms or other accommodations for those scheduled to stay on the North Shore but who can’t or couldn’t get there because of the closure of Kuhio Highway.

Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau, said officials with the airlines have been good about waiving ticket change fees for those unable to get to Lihu’e Airport for their scheduled flights because of the highway closure.

“Like all of you, I’m feeling the numbness of this terrible tragedy that befell our beautiful island and its wonderful people,” she said in an e-mail.

“Of paramount concern is the well-being of those families affected by this natural disaster. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as we continue to proceed with our recovery,” Kanoho said.

“Visitors are still coming to Kaua’i, and many were scheduled to stay at our North Shore properties that are temporarily cut off from ground transportation. We are seeking alternate accommodations for guests wanting to remain on island, and need your kokua,” she said in the e-mail to KVB members and others.

“If you have accommodations available for these displaced guests, please contact the KVB office at 245-3971 and help us assist with their relocation.

“We delivered a message to all rental-car companies asking them to advise customers not to drive to the North Shore. As much as possible, we need to keep the roads clear for emergency vehicles,” she added.

“At our request, Lihu’e Airport is running a public-address announcement every 20 minutes advising arrivals with North Shore accommodations to report to the Pahio booth (counter at the airport), where a list of alternate hotel rooms is being maintained.”

Patience is needed, as “these next few days, weeks and months will test the patience of our fellow residents and visitors. Many will look to the visitor industry for empathy and guidance,” she said.

“Please help out whenever and wherever you can, and maintain a positive outlook, as we overcome this crisis together. Mahalo for your understanding and support,” said Kanoho.

United States Postal Service officials reported that the flooding prevented the Hanalei, Princeville and Kilauea post offices from opening Tuesday and Wednesday, with mail for customers at those offices being held in Lihu’e.

As soon as the highway opens, that mail will be transported to the three closed offices.

Postmasters at those offices will first conduct a thorough facilities and environmental assessment.

They will need to determine whether it is safe, and if they have adequate manpower to distribute and deliver mail, and to open their retail operations.

“Our employees will have the Hanalei, Princeville and Kilauea offices up and running as soon as it is safe to do so,” said Public Affairs Manager Duke Gonzales.

“We know that many of our customers are waiting for their mid-month payroll checks and other important mail, and will work to get that mail into their hands as soon as possible.”

The U.S. Postal Service delivers 212 billion pieces of mail a year, or about five pieces per address per day, to more than 144 million homes, businesses, and post-office boxes, and serves 7.5 million customers daily at more than 37,000 postal retail outlets.

In addition to the county and state mobilizations of man-power and funds, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai’i, announced in a press release that he is poised to fight for federal emergency funds for the Kilauea area if necessary.

“The situation on Kaua’i concerns me greatly, and my Hawai’i-based staff is working to keep me informed of the situation,” Inouye said.

“If local and state officials conclude that this is a situation that requires federal assistance, I am prepared to seek whatever aid is needed,” said Inouye, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“As we have learned with the severe flooding of the University of Hawai’i and Manoa Valley in 2004, federal assistance is invaluable in assisting with the recovery from this sort of catastrophe,” he said.

“As I did in the UH and Manoa Valley situation, I stand ready to move to secure federal emergency funds.”

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