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Tuesday, November 7, 2000

By Rod Thompson, Star-Bulletin
Flood waters isolated Wood Valley, north of Pahala
in the Kau Forest Reserve, for several days.

Big Isle gets
help for cleanup

A federal agency gives
preliminary approval to a
request for disaster relief

By Rod Ohira and Rod Thompson

The Federal Emergency Management Administration's regional office in San Francisco today approved and forwarded Gov. Ben Cayetano's disaster declaration request for the Big Island to its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The request likely will be sent to President Clinton for action.

"We're hoping for a declaration by the end of the week," said Jennifer Goto Sabas, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's chief of staff.

Map FEMA teams already are on the Big Island to assess damage from last Thursday's severe flooding.

Inouye's office also is working to secure emergency funds from the Federal Highway Administration to provide immediate assistance in repairing the Belt Highway from Hilo to Pahala, Sabas said. Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to be in Hilo tomorrow to help clean up the bayfront.

"The work can proceed once we get the (disaster) declaration," Sabas said. "The money will be there at the end."

Meanwhile, Big Island Civil Defense estimated total damage from the floods at nearly $20 million.

Derek Kalima, a damage assessment specialist for the Hawaii Chapter of the American Red Cross, said today that 14 homes were destroyed -- 10 in Hilo, three in Puna and one in Kau.

Also, 110 single-family residences and 41 apartments sustained major damage while 116 homes and six apartments reported minor damage, Kalima said.

The Hawaii Army National Guard, aiding in the cleanup of the bayfront area, will attempt to bring general election ballots from the Pahala area to Hilo later today, said Lt. Col. Kent Tsutsumi.

"There's some major breaks on Highway 11 to and from Hilo but we're going to try and retrieve the ballots," Tsutsumi said.

About 120 guardsmen were helping clean up Kamehameha Highway and Pauahi Street between downtown Hilo and the bay. "There's a lot of down trees and mud, which may be contaminated," Tsutsumi said.

Meanwhile, some Big Island residents hard-hit by Thursday's floods still can't believe what happened. Kau resident Dane Galiza thought it was "just another rain" pounding his girlfriend's house in remote Wood Valley until he looked out the window at 4 a.m. Thursday and saw water completely surrounding her house.

Galiza and girlfriend Sabine Hendreschke waded outside, holding onto each other, knee-deep in swirling water. Behind them, her house fell apart in three places.

"It was an ordeal and a half," Galiza said.

Galiza and his neighbors were trapped in Wood Valley, north of Pahala in the Kau Forest Reserve, for several days when several bridges were washed out.

They finally took things into their own hands, bulldozing debris off the access road in some places and building up a new roadway passable by four-wheel-drive vehicle in other places.

Wood Valley resident Stanley Mizuno said the five-mile road to Pahala was just restored Sunday.

While Wood Valley was isolated from Pahala, Pahala was isolated from the rest of the island by breaks in the Hawaii Belt Road, said Hawaii Island Economic Opportunity Council representative Anna Cariaga.

For several days there was no bread, milk or eggs getting into the community, she said.

Marya Schwabe, who manages the Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling temple in Wood Valley, had been feeding about 35 people a day until yesterday. Some were residents trapped in the valley, 16 of them women taking massage classes at the temple.

The temple sits on a rise of land where it is relatively safe. But during the storm, water 20 feet deep flowed past, Schwabe said. Pastures were stripped of vegetation and some animals were swept downstream, she said.

The flooding cut off piped water to the temple.

The students and refugees got by with a 4,000-gallon rainwater catchment system.

Road access to Hilo was also restored over the weekend, but former sugar plantation roads had up to 18 inches of mud on them.

Police warned outsiders not to try the maze of roads.

Cariaga said said some residents have to drive three quarters of the way around the island to get to jobs in Volcano or Hilo -- and perhaps make arrangements to stay there all week before returning home on the weekend.

Civil Defense announced a meeting will be held at 6 p.m. tomorrow at the Pahala Community Center to discuss access, health and safety.

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