Pumps arrive to help victims

LIHU‘E — Following prolonged heavy flooding across the island Thursday, Hawaii Army National Guard citizen-soldiers are manning equipment to pump out swamped public facilities and homes in Kapahi, Waimea, Kekaha and Koloa, Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste announced Friday.

Hawaii Air National Guard members are in those communities to man pumps to divert water away, and to keep those communities safe, Baptiste told reporters at the Kaua‘i Police Department headquarters off Kapule Highway in Lihu‘e. Baptiste was joined by KPD Chief K.C. Lum.

Members of those communities had gone through some of the worst flooding the last four days, and need help, Baptiste said.

Koloa residents were on high alert because the water in the Waita Reservoir was reaching capacity.

But water diversions helped deflate fears in the Koloa community. As of Friday, the water level in the reservoir had dropped 22 feet, Baptiste said.

“I am very confident in the Waita Dam, that it will not breach,” Baptiste said.

During the news conference, the second victim of the massive flooding from the Morita Reservoir early Tuesday morning was identified as Christina Macnees, 22.

Her body was found Wednesday afternoon on a stream bed near the Kilauea River mouth. She was supposed to get married today.

Macnees and six other folks had been staying in a cluster of homes on the banks of Wailapa Stream early Tuesday morning, when both the Ka Loko and Morita reservoirs in Kilauea breached.

More than 300 million gallons of water from the Morita Reservoir plowed into the homes and destroyed them, taking the seven people downstream. Only the cement foundations remained.

The body of 30-year-old Alan Ding-wall was found offshore from the Kilauea coastline Tuesday afternoon.

Members of two teams from the Urban, Search and Rescue division of the state Civil Defense Office continue to search for five other missing persons.

They have been identified as Daniel Arroyo, Aurora Fehring, Rowan Fehring-Dingwall, Timothy Noonan and Wayne Rotstein.

Macnees and Dingwall were in different homes on the same property by the stream when the flooding began.

Ed Simeona, a task-force leader for members of the search-and-rescue team, said the chances of finding the other five are bleak at this point.

“In any search operation, the longer you go, the worse your chances become,” said Simeona, who accompanied Baptiste at the news conference.

He said members of his two search teams are in the fifth day of a search-and-rescue mission, and have not found any signs of the other five missing people.

Still, Simeona said he wants to remain optimistic.

“We want to help, and want to have closure,” he said. “So we want to find something.”

Simeona said a contractor with an excavator yesterday worked with members of one search team to try to locate the missing folks.

They found rubble piles along the stream bed that “were of interest” to search dogs, “but were too large to work manually,” Simeona said.

The team members checked out one particular pile, measuring 40 feet wide and 100 feet long and standing about 10 feet in height, because it had building materials mixed with debris, he said.

Most likely, the building materials were from the homes that were destroyed, he said.

The pile of debris with the building materials was found about 100 yards to 150 yards from where the destroyed homes once stood, he said.

The searchers looked through the debris as the operator of the excavator slowly moved pieces of wood away from the pile, Simeona said.

“We put the (search) dogs to it,” he said. “The dogs are still excited about the area.”

The behavior of the dogs, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that a body or person will be found, Simeona said.

The animals acted that way because they may have sniffed a piece of bedding or clothing that had the scent of one of the missing persons, Simeona said.

Members of two teams have conducted searches from morning to night since Wednesday, he said.

On Friday, while members of one team sifted through the pile, the other team conducted “peripheral checks” along the stream banks, he said.

None of the team members have gone into the water where the debris lay, Simeona said, because “we don’t know how deep it is, we don’t know how much is flowing.”

The search teams are primarily made up of individuals from the Kaua‘i Fire Department, the Honolulu Fire Department, American Medical Response personnel, and volunteers.

Among the volunteers are members of the Kauai Search and Rescue Volunteers group.

Using search dogs as well, they included Kuma Davis, Juliet Moncrief, Bill Woodard, Kalei Suzuki, Peter Kahapea, David Miyao, Debra Grochro, Ginny Baldwin, Gerald Shinn, Sal Ochoa, Janice Olsen, Azi and Jim Turturici, John Burns, Russell Fu, Chad K. Pacheco, Shirley Hammond, a California Task Force III Federal Emergency Management Agency Search and Rescue K9 coordinator, Janet Yatchak, a National Association of Search and Rescue (SAR) Dog section chairperson.

Kilauea resident Gary Pacheco is the father of Chad K. Pacheco, and a supporter of the Kaua‘i-based volunteer group.

He said the volunteers should be recognized as well because they are risking their lives in the search effort and are taking time off from jobs to help.

Baptiste also reported that the Morita Reservoir, with water relieved and water pumped from it as well, is on solid footing at this point, and doesn’t appear to pose any more danger.

It was his belief that the water, because of diversions, had dropped to 12 feet below the top of the reservoir.

Nonetheless, members of two dam-assessment teams will be visiting the island to check the structural integrity of the Ka Loko, Morita and Waiakalua reservoirs, all located in Kilauea, the ‘Elua and Alexander reservoirs, both located in Kalaheo, and the Waita Reservoir in Koloa.

The teams consist of engineers and personnel from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, and Kaua‘i-based terrain experts.

County officials also will be taking up an offer from members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for more Mainland dam experts from the Bureau of Reclamation to come to Kaua‘i to work with members of the dam-assessment team.

Engineers with the state Department of Transportation Highways Division also will be on the island to begin planning for the permanent repair of Kuhio Highway in Kilauea that was severely damaged by the flooding on March 14, Baptiste said.

Only one lane of the two-lane highway remains open. The roadway offers the only land-vehicle way in and out of the North Shore of the island.

In addition, other help will come to Kaua‘i next week, depending on the weather, Baptiste, said.

Members of a joint preliminary-damage-assessment team will be on the island, and will include representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and county officials.

In addition, Edward Teixeira, vice director of the state Civil Defense office, is scheduled to be on Kaua‘i today.

Baptiste said the show of support from government officials and residents following the tragedy has been over-whelming.

Related to flood relief in South and West Kaua‘i, Baptiste noted:

  • As of Friday, personnel are caring for four persons at an emergency shelter at the Waimea Neighborhood Center, 13 persons at another shelter at the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center, and four persons at a shelter at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center;
  • Members of assessment teams will head to neighborhoods that have been subjected to flooding, to determine where water pumps and other resources can be deployed;
  • Kaua‘i County leaders have received two large pumps, each weighing about 4,000 pounds, from officials of Hawai‘i County (the Big Island);
  • Another five pumps have come from leaders of Maui County. All the pumps were transported to the island aboard a C-17 military aircraft, officials said.
  • Black Hawk helicopters will fly over Kaua‘i to identify other flooded areas.
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