Isle farms hitThe economic impact of yesterday's tragedy is likely to hit very close to home for Hawaii's neighbor island residents.
by halt in air cargo
Perishable products await
re-opening of nation's airports
By Lyn Danninger
With air service suspended yesterday, everything from mail to perishable agricultural products and medical laboratory test specimens destined for Oahu and beyond -- normally transported by local airlines and air cargo carriers -- has not moved.
"We just signed an alliance with FedEx so the majority of mail has been leaving on their flights," said Felice Broglio, public affairs officer for the U.S. Post office. But those flights, like all others, were canceled yesterday.
Broglio predicted that it will be at least noon Eastern Daylight Time today or possibly longer until normal service will resume.
Big Island farmers, Hawaii's largest group of agricultural producers, are likely to be among the hardest hit by the tragedy.
"I would hesitate to put a dollar value on it but it's a rolling effect," said Hawaii Island Economic Development Board President Paula Helfrich.
A huge backlog of perishable products destined for Oahu and worldwide were either due to leave Big Island airports and docks or were already sitting in Honolulu waiting to be moved.
"People don't realize that 85 percent of Hawaii agriculture leaves the Big Island, and from Hilo," said Leland Anderson, owner of Polynesian Orchids and Anthuriums, an export floral company near Hilo. "We already had calls from some customers so we know we are going to lose money on the flowers we shipped yesterday."
"It's going to hurt a lot of people," he said.
Even if agricultural products could survive while waiting to be shipped from the Big Island, a lack of adequate cover at Hawaii's docks and air cargo facilities will hasten their deterioration, Anderson said. With no wide-bodied jet cargo service direct from Hilo, products must come to Honolulu before being shipped elsewhere.
Monday is also one of the heaviest days of the week for shipping from the Big Island, according to Anderson. For that reason, he knows there is likely to be a lot of agricultural products now heading for Honolulu.
"Monday is the only day to ship products by boat from Hilo and get them there by Wednesday. From there it takes most of the day for truckers to pick them up and get them to an airplane," he said.
Moreover, Anderson said even if farmers were able to ship already packed produce and flowers today, the backlog of freight in Honolulu will create a problem with perishable products.
"What about the freight already backed up? Nobody is going to pay us for that," he said.
To add to problems, most air carriers do not insure agricultural products such as flowers, plants and produce.
Farmers' losses could be huge, Anderson predicts.
Anderson said he feels especially sorry for Big Island papaya growers.
"When I went down to the dock in Hilo on Monday, I was in back of about 20 papaya trucks. Those guys are going to die," he said.
"There's no way anyone is going to insure this."