JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Deputy Fire Chief John Clark described a newly dedicated ocean safety sign yesterday at China Walls in Hawaii Kai.
Old-time signs will signify fatal danger
City officials hope the vintage warnings will get people’s attention in hazardous areas
City emergency workers are hoping a sign from the past will help prevent people who venture near the shoreline from being swept into the ocean.
Old-time wooden obelisk "DANGER" signs are being re-created and placed along East Oahu's dangerous cliff and shoreline areas, where people have drowned. The first of several such signs was unveiled yesterday morning along the hillside overlooking the China Walls surf spot in Portlock yesterday.
"The presence of these obelisks indicates a need for extra caution," said Dr. Libby Char, director of the Emergency Services Department.
"Here at China Walls, for example, the ocean might seem very inviting, but several people have drowned after they jumped in and were unable to get back ashore or were dashed against the rocks by swells."
The signs say "danger" in both Japanese and English and were fashioned after similar wooden markers that were created and put up by members of the Honolulu Japanese Fishing Club between 1931 and 1941, according to Honolulu Fire Department Deputy Chief John Clark, who researched the idea for a book he is writing.
Two of the original signs remain -- one of which can be seen at the Halona Blowhole -- but the rest have either deteriorated from time and weather or have been vandalized.
"I remember seeing the white obelisks all over when I was a boy," Clark said. "At one time there were more than 50 around Oahu. Everyone knew that wherever you saw one of them, someone -- a fisherman, opihi picker, throw-net fisherman -- had been swept off the rocks and drowned there."
On hand for the ceremony was 81-year-old Horace Sasaki, whose father had put up one of the first shoreline danger markers at China Walls back in 1931. Sasaki remembers how a lobster fisherman had been swept off the ledge and drowned, which prompted his father, Mokichi, to save other fishermen from the same fate.
"Wherever people had died he wanted to put up a sign," Sasaki said.
City officials plan on putting up three more markers, at the blowhole, the Lanai Lookout and Spitting Caves, a popular but dangerous area near Portlock Point.
Clark notes that there is a need for such warnings along Oahu's Ka Iwi coastline, from Portlock to Makapuu, because of hazardous conditions.
In the last six years, Ocean Safety officials said, there have been a total of 24 drownings at the Spitting Caves and China Walls areas alone.
"We thought if we did something different ... maybe it'll get some attention," Clark said.