Search continues for four missing

LIHU‘E — Search efforts continued yesterday along the Wailapa Stream in Kilauea for four persons who remain missing four days after the Morita Reservoir breached and flooded the Wailapa Stream, destroying at least two homes and taking the lives of three others, officials announced.

Officials announced that searchers found the body of a woman on the stream bed Friday afternoon. Her identity was not released, but Aurora Fehring was the only other woman among the seven who were reported missing.

The body of Christina Macnees, 22, was found Wednesday near the Kilauea River mouth.

Tuesday afternoon, the body of Alan Ding-wall, who was in his 30s, was found offshore, outside Kilauea Bay.

During a news conference at the Kaua‘i Police Department headquarters off Kapule Highway in Lihu‘e yesterday, KFD Fire Chief Robert Westerman announced that members of the Hawaii Urban, Search and Rescue division of the state Civil Defense Office and others have found no new signs of the missing people.

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

In looking for them, searchers have gone through a pile of debris, and went though two other piles Saturday.

Searching through the piles has been a challenge, Westerman said, noting that one pile was 100 feet long, 30 feet wide and 30 feet high.

“The trees are so big they aren’t manageable by hand,” Westerman said.

The operator of an evacuator gingerly took apart a tangle of trees to allow searchers and dogs to go through the debris.

The rainy weather and muddy conditions along stream areas makai of Kuhio Highway have made the search challenging, Westerman said.

“But they are working diligently to clear all points of interest that the dogs have indicated so far, and are continuing,” Westerman said.

The activity of the dogs doesn’t mean that they are close to finding any of the missing people, officials said.

The dogs may be zeroing in on certain areas of the pile because they may be smelling the scent of clothes of the missing or of a bed one of the missing might have slept on, officials said.

The searchers also checked out two vehicles found in the stream, one of which was over-turned, Westerman said. It was a four-wheel-drive all-terrain vehicle, found higher up in the stream, he said.

Joining the search were members of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Kaua‘i Police Department, the Kaua‘i Fire Department, and volunteers with the Kauai Search and Rescue Volunteers group.

More searchers have come in the form of state DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) officers. They had been used to provide security during the initial phases of the search, but have been reassigned as it has continued, Westerman said.

DLNR personnel also will ply the shoreline in small boats as part of an expanded search effort, Westerman said.

In addition, divers with the Kaua‘i Fire Department have remained on standby, officials said.

To help guard against new problems surfacing at the Morita Reservoir, a “top portion” was lopped off Friday night by an excavator used by contractor Lance Fu, Baptiste said.

“We are taking the weakest part to guard against more collapsing of the upper part of the reservoir,” he said.

Diversions and the pumping of water from the reservoir have stabilized the structure, Baptiste said.

Traffic flow continues on only one lane of the two-lane Kuhio Highway, located a quarter-mile makai of the reservoir, which was overrun by flooding Tuesday morning.

Ed Teixeira, vice director of state Civil Defense, took a helicopter flight over the disaster area and other reservoirs on the island on Saturday.

He said the overall coordination of emergency services by state and county agencies, with support by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including the Hawaii Army National Guard and Hawaii Air National Guard and the Coast Guard, and the delivery of emergency services has gone on without a hitch.

Teixeira said he discussed the emergency response with Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, who heads state Civil Defense.

“Feedback from me is that I think we ought to be very proud in Hawai‘i, by the way we have responded to all the flood incidents over the three-plus weeks,” he said. “In my view, I am encaptioning, ‘we are holding our own.’’’

Teixeira said damage assessments are being done by state and county officials, with “FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in the loop.” And if members of FEMA assessment teams verify as valid the damage reported by members of the local assessment teams, and the governor asks for federal assistance, a federal state of emergency can be declared by President Bush, he said.

That will open the way for a slew of federal programs and funding to find their way to Hawai‘i, providing relief to both residents with losses and representatives of government agencies with damaged public structures, he said.

In other developments, Baptiste reported:

  • One lane of the Kapa‘a bypass road was closed, but large pumps were used to divert water in the area. Smaller pumps were used earlier, but they were ineffective in clearing the water;
  • Sailors from the USS Lake Erie, which has come to Nawiliwili Harbor, were volunteering their services and were manning pumps to clear water from areas in Kekaha, including at Westerman’s home;
  • Pumps are in place where flooding occurred Friday, and if they are needed again, they will be activated in short order. “They are all in the place, in areas that were inundated, so our response time will be quicker than before,” Baptiste said;
  • Members of the U.S. Geological Survey are prioritizing which island reservoirs will be fitted with gauges, to measure the height of water in them. The team will be making its report by late Saturday, Baptiste said;
  • Dam specialists are committed to inspect 51 dams;
  • Kekaha Beach and Kealia Beach were closed Saturday after sharks were seen off-shore.

Westerman also reported that county beaches Saturday were staffed with only one life-guard at safety towers so that other lifeguards could assist with the disaster recovery.

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