Millions promised for Kaua’i

Kaua’i County could receive $15 million to $30 million in federal disaster relief funds following flooding across the island, including that which took seven lives in Kilauea last week, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai’i, said Friday.

Inouye said he would ask for that much as part of a supplemental appropriation bill he plans to submit to Congress for fiscal year 2006.

Securing the funds has great urgency for residents who went through such trauma, he said. “And for many homes and farms, it is not a matter of ‘oh yes, I can wait a year,'” Inouye said. “Its an annual thing. They need it now for income.”

Inouye made his comments at a disaster assistance recovery center state and county officials set up at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. yesterday.

By noon, some 30 residents, including farmers, had consulted with government officials on the type of aid available, had applied for low-interest emergency government loans, had talked with officials about the removal of debris from properties and sought out the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army for food or emergency financial aid.

Some residents said they were heartened to see the array of services offered by state and county agencies in the aftermath of the March 14 flooding from the Ka Loko Reservoir that took the lives of seven people, significantly damaged Kuhio Highway in Kilauea so that only one of two lanes is passable and severely damaged the environment.

All seven persons were in the homes near the Wailapa Stream between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. that day when the Ka Loko Reservoir breached.

More than 300 million gallons of water rushed down the stream filled the Morita Reservoir, and overran the highway and swept away two homes occupied by the seven persons.

Three bodies have been found and four persons are still missing. A search that spanned just over a week was suspended in the middle of this week when no signs surfaced for the four missing persons.

Yesterday, Inouye, Mayor Bryan Baptiste and about a dozen other officials aboard two Hawai’i National Guard Black Hawk helicopters surveyed the damage around the two Kilauea reservoirs and areas around the Waita Reservoir in Koloa and the Alexander Reservoir in Kalaheo.

The latter two reservoirs could have caused a calamity for resident if they had breached during persistent, heavy rains last week, but officials said they are sound.

Inouye said he wants to see federal dollars put to work to help Kaua’i as quickly as possible.

“My concern is that I want to have the (damage) assessment in the hands of Congress, I would say, the latest, within two weeks, because we will begin consideration of the emergency supplemental appropriations,” Inouye said.

If Congress moves in that vein, “the money is available this fiscal year, instead of waiting until the next fiscal year,” Inouye said.

President Bush must approve the expenditure of the funds before they can be distributed on Kaua’i, and would supplement any other federal emergency funds sought by the state through a federal declaration of an emergency for Hawai’i, said Jennifer Goto Sabas, who serves as chief-of-staff at Inouye’s office in Honolulu.

Ed Teixeira, vice director of the state Civil Defense, said state and county leaders have submitted a joint preliminary-damage assessment list to Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.

The list contains damage properties and facilities that could be eligible for federal re-imbursements.

Teixeira said earlier this week that FEMA team members were to be in Hawai’i Friday to initiate or to complete the damage assessment reports.

Inouye said the amount of emergency relief money could be sizable.

“At this stage, it may be for this Kaua’i place, somewhere between $14 and $30 (million), not thousands. We don’t fool around with that,” Inouye said with a smile.

Inouye said he was expecting the worse when he toured the damaged areas in Kilauea.

“I expected to see utter chaos here, and here I come in, and the streets are open, and we are zipping on by,” Inouye said.

Inouye said he was impressed by the progress of the recovery, orchestrated by government agencies, from the damage in Kilauea.

“That pleases me,” he said. “But I know there is a lot of damage here, and that is why I am trying to get the assessments done as soon as possible.”

Removal of debris from Wailapa Stream, which had swelled from about 10 feet in width to a swath of 150 yards during the March 14 flooding, and emergency aid to farmers hurt by flooding, seemed to be foremost on the minds of people seeking government help yesterday.

The force of the flooding tore down forests of trees from both banks of the Wailapa Stream, leaving mountainous heaps of broken trees in the stream.

Donna Apisa, a prominent island Realtor who owns a home on land above the stream waited in line to talk with Kaua’i County Public Works officials about removing debris from her 3-and-a-half-acre parcel.

“Up to an acre is covered with mud, silt and debris,” she said. “And it is still there. I am here to find out what the options are.”

Baptiste has said the county may be eligible for reimbursements from FEMA for the removal of debris. Some of it was taken away to a site along Kuhio Highway in Kilauea or Moloa’a area for temporary storage shortly after the March 14 flooding.

Apisa said she also approached county finance personnel to see if the county could lower her land assessment because the flooding had eroded her land.

Bob Capwell, who owns a home on Kahili Makai Road, said he brought similar issues to the attention of government representatives.

He said he is thankful the flooding didn’t damage his home, but it gave him a scare nonetheless.

“Lots of trees had been ripped out, debris and the fence had been partially torn down,” he said. “The house was 13 vertical feet above the area where we had the lake.”

He said he is faced with a huge task of having debris removed from lower portions of his property that extend into the stream bed.

“I have got a cleanup,” he said. “I don’t know how much that is going to be.” Because the flooding eroded away some of his land, he also approached county finance department officials to adjust his land tax bill.

Christy Langstaff said she suffered flood-related losses, but not in Kilauea.

Langstaff said flooding damaged the lower portion of her two-story home in Wailua Homesteads.

Langstaff said because her home is not located in a flood zone, she and her family never thought to buy flood insurance.

She sought out help from Kris Jardin and Sherry Laride, both eligibility workers with the state Department of Human Services office in Kapa’a.

The two told Langstaff that she could be eligible for financial and medical assistance, food stamps and child care assistance. Langstaff estimated her damages to be about $10,000 and hoped she could get help.

Thomas J. Smyth, an administrator with the state Business Support Division of the State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said his office was offering five-percent interest rate loans to individuals with a $35,000 cap and loans to businesses with a $75,000 cap.

Smyth said he knew he couldn’t help some. One person had losses of up to $1 million dollars.

Before people apply for loans from his agency, they should take into account inflationary costs for their repairs, Smyth said.

“We had six people come by as (of 10:30 a.m.), and some didn’t fit our situation,” Smyth said. ” Some had very large losses, and they can get covered through their insurance.”

Smyth also said a “few people saw this as a loan program, and (when told it wasn’t) they said ‘no.'”

Farmers sought aid from the state Department of Agriculture for crop losses and other farm-related losses. If eligible, the farmers could be eligible for farm loans of up to $250,000 at a 3 percent rate.

Five other persons sought legal help from Emiko L.T. Ryan, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, and Simeona Ahuna, a deputy prosecuting attorney with Kaua’i County.

Both attorneys are members of the Kaua’i Bar Association and said they wanted to help the community when asked by leaders of the Hawai’i Bar Association to man tables at the disaster assistance recovery center.

“They wanted to know who was responsible for the cleanup. Some had questions about financial assistance for families,” Ryan said.

Christina Pilkington, the American with Disabilities Act coordinator for the county, and Larry Littleton, co-chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for Equal Access, were ready to take care of the needs of the physically-challenged. No one came, but Pilkington said she wanted to “make sure these services are available to everybody.”

Capwell said he was heartened to see government officials offer services at a time when people are in great need. He was optimistic about the help that could be rendered.

“I am looking for results,” he said.

Teixeira said helping people reach normalcy again in their lives was the key focus of the disaster assistance recovery center.

Officials didn’t know what the turnout might be, but were happy to help 25 to 30 persons by noon yesterday, Teixeira said.

“When I compare where we were two weeks ago at Kualoa Ranch (on O’ahu) where we had a DARC (disaster assistance recovery center), and 30 people came in by 1 p.m., what we have here is very good,” Teixeira said.

Because the flooding on the North Shore involved many homes, officials thought the turnout for that event would have been much larger, he said.

For Kaua’i, officials plan to operate another disaster assistance recovery center at the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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