DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Muddy floodwaters ran knee-deep in McCully on March 31 after heavy rains pounded the island.
Hawaii storm approved for U.S. disaster status
Emergency funding of $33.5 million also advances in the Senate
President Bush issued an emergency disaster declaration for Hawaii yesterday, opening the spigot for millions of dollars in relief for residents who suffered flood and storm damage.
The declaration follows an April 11 request to Bush from Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, who estimated flooding disaster damage would exceed $50 million due to severe storms, flooding and landslides from Feb. 20 through April 2.
"President Bush understands that, unlike many disasters which threaten people and property for a few hours or a few days, this was a prolonged disaster lasting nearly six weeks," Lingle said.
Kauai County Mayor Bryan Baptiste, whose island suffered major flood damage, said he welcomed the news of the presidential declaration.
"We look forward to working with the federal government, relative to individual assistance, public assistance and hazard mitigation that may be provided through this declaration," Baptiste said.
Also yesterday, the U.S. Senate moved closer to approving some $33.5 million in Hawaii disaster assistance contained in a large emergency supplemental appropriations bill that has money also for the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina victims.
The Hawaii allocation has some $6 million in relief to sugar companies on Kauai and Maui, $20 million for highway repairs and roads on Kauai, and some $4 million to $7 million for drainage and debris-clearing work.
The Senate rejected an amendment introduced by Sen. John McCain that would have blocked the $6 million for the sugar companies.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, who argued in favor of the $33.5 million, said crop losses for the two sugar companies alone totaled more than $14 million over a three-year period.
"It is indisputable that it will take more than $6 million to ensure the complete recovery of those two sugar companies that are a vital part of Hawaii's economy," Inouye said.
Inouye's chief of staff, Jennifer Goto-Sabas, said President Bush's declaration means there will be additional money made available to help victims recover from the flooding.
She said the assistance might come in the form of grants and low-interest loans to homeowners.
Goto-Sabas said the emergency supplemental appropriations bill with the $33.5 million is expected to be passed by the Senate by May 26.
Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency are expected to arrive in Honolulu later this week to coordinate federal assistance efforts and designate specific areas eligible for such assistance.
FEMA and state Civil Defense will be notifying the news media and people who sustained losses on how to register and apply for assistance, Lingle's office said.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns approved Lingle's request for disaster designation due to crop damage that occurred on Kauai and Oahu between Feb. 20 and March 26.
The disaster declaration by the secretary makes Hawaii farmers eligible for federal low-interest loans.
Sugar officials with Gay & Robinson Inc., the family-run corporation on Kauai and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. on Maui said their businesses were grateful for the $6 million in assistance, although the damage exceeded that amount.
E. Alan Kennett, president and general manager of Gay & Robinson, said estimated losses from some 46 days of rain might total somewhere between $8 million and $12 million.
"We've got unbelievable damage," Kennett said.
Besides low yields and the loss of harvesting time, he said, a road to the company's major water system on the Hanapepe side of the island washed away, and nearly every road on the plantation needed repair.