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Friday, November 10, 2000

Big Island awaits
federal disaster
relief assistance

Loans for personal and business
property, grants for house repairs,
unemployment payments and rental
payments will be available

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent

HILO -- The residents of remote Wood Valley on the Big Island have spent $10,000 in the past few days to replace a vital water pipe wiped out by last week's heavy rains.

President Bill Clinton declared the entire island to be a disaster area yesterday, freeing federal money that ultimately may reimburse Wood Valley residents for their efforts.

Gov. Ben Cayetano had requested a presidential disaster declaration for the Big Island and Maui. The Maui declaration is still under consideration, U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink said in a statement.

Mink put the current estimate of Big Island damage at $30 million.

Mayor Stephen Yamashiro was pleased by the president's action. "It frees up a lot of federal programs that were not formerly available. It greatly reduces the burden on county government and individuals," he said.

Marya Schwabe at the Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Wood Valley, which also serves as a community gathering place, said a water pipe from about the 1920s was deteriorating, and 26 families and property owners in the valley had formed themselves into a cooperative to repair or replace it.

Then torrential rains struck, wiping out the pipe. "Nobody had water," Schwabe said.

Families were already in the process of contributing $1,400 each to the process when disaster came. The money was used to buy $10,000 worth of plastic pipe, and the National Guard transported it to the valley, Schwabe said.

Volunteers have been assembling it, and water has now been restored to about half of the valley, she said.

The valley had been cut off from the outside world for several days when the single road in was cut off by flooding.

That road has now been restored, and an emergency road through Kapapala Ranch is in the process of being upgraded through the addition of gravel, Schwabe said.

"We're not cut off now," she said.

That roadwork, too, may be reimbursed by federal funds.

Among the types of federal assistance available for Big Island residents:

Bullet Rental payments for temporary housing.
Bullet Grants for minimal and essential emergency repairs to houses.
Bullet Unemployment payments for workers who lost jobs due to the disaster.
Bullet Loans varying from $40,000 to replace personal property to $1.5 million for businesses.

Yamashiro said federal money may pay for most of a $2 million bridgelike box culvert to repair a washout on Hilo's Komohana Street which has kept traffic backed up in the area.

The downside is that repairs may take five months, he said.

Federal officials to administer the funds are expected to arrive next week and to remain as long as three months, he said.

The Red Cross and the Verizon Foundation also announced a $25,000 donation to Big Island flood relief efforts from the philanthropic arm of Verizon Communications.

The Red Cross said volunteers from as far away as Saipan are arriving on the Big Island to help.

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