Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News

Damage assessment teams
fan out across Oahu

By Mike Yuen and Mary Adamski

AS city officials conclude that record-breaking rainfall on Oahu caused "tens of millions of dollars" in damage, Gov. Ben Cayetano plans to seek federal aid.

Cayetano, who yesterday inspected flood-ravaged areas on the hard-hit Leeward Coast, said he would ask vacationing President Clinton to declare parts of Oahu disaster areas.

"When the president comes in, I'll talk to him. I guess I'll drive the point home that because of weather we can't play golf this weekend," Cayetano said, chuckling, before Clinton arrived last night.

But Clinton may see the sun, and golf, as forecasters predict a partly cloudy day on Oahu with a chance of thundershowers this afternoon, but clearing tonight.

Clouds may return around noon tomorrow with frequent trade showers, but mainly over windward areas, said Hans Rosendal, National Weather Service lead forecaster.

And with tradewinds returning tomorrow for four to five days, normal tradewind weather should resume. "Bad weather can't last forever," he added.

In assessing damage, Cayetano said he could declare a state emergency. But he also said the federal government has more resources for people with property losses.

"What we want to do is to be able to qualify for federal disaster assistance," he said.

Following Cayetano's inspection yesterday, state Civil Defense Vice Director Roy Price, who accompanied the governor, huddled with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who arrived from San Francisco yesterday.

Today, damage assessment teams with city, state and Red Cross officials - now joined by their federal counterparts - fanned out across Oahu to continue gauging the havoc caused by the rainstorms, which at times have been accompanied by thunder and lightning.

A flash flood watch for Oahu was canceled last night. But a watch was to be in effect until noon today on Kauai, where rain is expected through the morning.

While homes and shops have been damaged and crops destroyed, no one so far has been killed by the bad weather, said Oahu Civil Defense Administrator Joe Reed.

Reed said he had no hard numbers, but put the preliminary damage assessment at tens of millions of dollars.

Last night, a family of six remained in the Red Cross shelter at Waianae District Park. There were 20 people there Wednesday night and 14 on Thursday, said Red Cross spokesman Russell Fujita. Another shelter was opened at Waialua District Park but after no comers, it was closed, he said.

State agriculture officials said crop losses alone are about $1 million.

The damage caused by the storms that have hammered Oahu since Nov. 5, election day, will match or exceed the $29 million in damage caused by the New Year's storm of 1988 that began Dec. 31, 1987, and lasted until Jan. 2, 1988, Reed said.

That storm caused flash floods in Kailua, Niu Valley and Hawaii Kai, and was more localized, while this month's storms have pummeled the island, Reed said.

Although there are still two weeks left in the month, this is already the wettest November for Oahu since records have been kept since 1874. As of 8 a.m. today, the rainfall at Honolulu Airport reached about 16 inches.

The old record was 14.72 inches in 1965. The average rainfall in November is 3 inches, said Price.

City officials are urging isle motorists to stay off the streets if driving is not essential.

At yesterday's inspection of the mudslide-wracked Makaha Valley Towers, Leeward Councilman John DeSoto, told Cayetano: "Governor, I've lived here (on the Leeward Coast) all my life but I've never seen something like this." Noting that brown water was flowing in a nearby waterfall, DeSoto said that means there is more loose dirt that could cause a landslide.

"The damage was so severe," said Cayetano. "It's incredible how powerful a landslide is. The automobiles were literally bent like pretzels."

Cayetano also inspected Aloun Farms in Ewa, which suffered $300,000 in losses in melons and Asian vegetables, said general manager Alec Sou.

In Maili, Cayetano and his entourage, traveling in four Hawaii National Guard vehicles, motored up Hakimo and Paakea roads, where flood waters have reached as high as 4 feet, covering hog and vegetable farms.

Cayetano journeyed into areas where waters were about 2 feet high before they turned back as they could not go further up Paakea Road.

The flooding was exacerbated by drainage systems covered with weeds and trash that included illegally abandoned cars, Cayetano said.

City garbage trucks can't drive up the road because they have no room to turn around, he added.

As a result, Cayetano is asking Maj. Gen. Edward Richardson, state adjutant general and Civil Defense director, to put together a task force with representatives from the state, county, Navy and Army Corps of Engineers to clear the drainage systems.

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