LIHU‘E — President Barack Obama on Wednesday issued a disaster declaration for Hawai‘i, clearing the way for federal funds to cover 75 percent of the costs of emergency work and repairs or replacement of public property damaged by the storms and flooding that hit Kaua‘i in early March.
The announcement came during a Kaua‘i County Council meeting at which county officials were briefing the council on the administration’s storm response. Halfway through the meeting, Civil Defense staff member Karleen Abalos quietly walked into the council chambers at the Historic County Building and slipped a piece of paper to Civil Defense Manager Ted Daligdig.
“I think Karleen has some important news here,” Daligdig said, interrupting the meeting.
“We got the federal declaration, it came today … for the March 3 to 11 floods,” Abalos told the council, prompting applause from everyone at the meeting.
County officials will now have 30 days to prepare a more in-depth assessment of storm-related damages and losses, Abalos said.
On April 4, Gov. Neil Abercrombie requested the federal assistance. On Wednesday morning, Daligdig had told council members the administration might hear from the president within a week, but the response came quicker, in fact, shortly after the council reconvened following a lunch break.
The preliminary disaster assessment released by Daligdig estimates storm-related damages and losses at approximately $2.09 million. But Daligdig said the final assessment would likely be higher after a more in-depth assessment, which will include losses to county parks and other property not yet detailed in the preliminary report.
The federal funds will match 75 percent of approved costs associated with storm damages. The remaining 25 percent will come from county or state government funds.
Following Obama’s decision, Abercrombie sent a news release stating he is “grateful” that the president recognizes Hawai‘i had its share of the “recent severe weather” that has affected the country.
No help to private property
Abercrombie did not request assistance to individuals and households, according to the summary of the declaration read by Abalos, so the federal funding only applies to losses or damages to public property.
“We did not meet the federal threshold for private damage,” Daligdig said.
Federal disaster guidelines state that communities with up to 2 million residents must have at least 173 homes that have sustained major damage to receive federal assistance, according to Elton Ushio, Civil Defense plans and operations officer.
“We had 14 Kaua‘i homes that sustained major damage,” he said.
American Red Cross volunteers and state Department of Public Safety officials, in a combined effort, assessed homes on Kaua‘i and determined one home was destroyed, 13 suffered major damages, 12 sustained minor damage, 27 were affected and 75 other homes inspected were considered unaffected, according to Ushio.
The preliminary disaster assessment for roads and bridges exceeded $1.23 million, with $1 million of that amount due to county road damage.
Preliminary damage to state parks was reported at $117,868.
The assessment also shows $267,259 in overtime paid to government workers, including $102,164 paid to Kaua‘i Police Department personnel.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.