Question is not if,
but when next boulder
will tumble down

Falling rocks and boulders are common
Previous boulder incidents
Boulder death recalls 1965 incident

By Leila Fujimori

The question now, said Honolulu fire Capt. Richard Soo, is when will another boulder -- like the one that killed 26-year-old Dara Rei Onishi yesterday -- tumble down a hillside, injuring or killing someone else.

"It's the same issues: When is it going to happen next and where," said Soo.

State geologist Glenn Bauer said falling rocks and boulders are quite common.

"It happens on a fairly regular basis, and we don't see it because it happens where people are not living. It's a natural process," Bauer said.

Bauer said lava-rock mountains erode and tree roots grow into cracks. The roots create pressure, dislodging rocks. But Bauer said he was not aware of any major problems with falling boulders in Nuuanu Valley.

Residents in Palolo, Kalihi and Aina Haina have had problems with falling rocks and boulders, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1962 an 8-year-old girl was killed by a falling boulder in Aina Haina. And in 1965 a boulder killed a couple in their living room in Manoa.

Fire officials said they hope yesterday's freak accident will alert homeowners to the risks of living next to a hillside.

A 6-ton, 5-by-5-foot boulder careened down a Nuuanu mountainside about 2 a.m. yesterday, creating a zigzag trail through the brush. It crushed the corner of a concrete water-catchment ditch, and the impact catapulted it into the air, Soo said.

A look at the path of the boulder that killed Dara Onishi, 26, while she slept in her Nuuanu home yesterday morning.

The boulder then smashed into Onishi's second-floor bedroom while she slept. The boulder took Onishi and her bed through the floor and landed in the family room on the first floor.

Onishi was killed instantly. Her parents and a younger brother also were asleep but were not injured. The family has lived at the Henry Street home, which borders a steep hillside, for about 30 years, neighbors said.

Soo said Honolulu Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi has advised the private owner of the vacant land above the Onishi home to have his property assessed by a soils engineer or geologist.

"We are presuming the boulder originated from the private property," said Soo.

He declined to identify the owner.

While some neighbors said they were not worried for their own safety, others said they were now uneasy about living at the base of a mountain.

Some neighbors said they suspect heavy rains Wednesday night may have loosened the boulder.

Soo said firefighters, who hiked about 100 yards up the hill behind the Onishis' home, did not detect any other loose boulders.

"It's kind of scary because my room is the one in the back," said neighbor Courtenay Looper, who moved to Henry Street with her family three years ago.

The area has erosion problems, Looper said, adding that her house is sliding down the hillside.

Looper's mother, Chun Ye Goldmann, said the family may speed up plans for building a rock wall behind their house and may make it higher than planned.

Goldmann said she had heard from neighbors about rocks coming down during heavy rains, but never boulders.

"I'm kind of worried," said Stella Isara, a 50-year resident of Henry Street and original homeowner, who has heard about previous tumbling rocks. "There's another house behind us, and yet you never can tell. ... It might just come this far."

But Alma Peter, who lives four houses away from the Onishis, said "there's nothing to be worried about." The 80-year-old said it is the first time she has heard of a falling boulder since she moved into her home in 1961.

"The chances are not very high of getting hit by a boulder," said Bruce Mosebar, who lives a few houses from the Onishis.

"It's a vertical cliff behind my place," he said.

He prefers the location because there are no neighbors behind him.

Mosebar said he has not thought about putting up any kind of protection from boulders. He does not want a fence to protect him and fears the state or city may build one anyway.

Star-Bulletin reporter Gregg K. Kakesako contributed to this report.


Runaway boulders a recurring and lethal problem in Hawaii

Major accidents involving boulders in Hawaii:

>> March 1954: A 6-ton boulder crashes into a bedroom on Waolani Avenue in Puunui.

>> November 1954: A 2-ton boulder crashes through the roof of a Palolo Valley home.

>> November 1955: A large rock crushes the leg of an 11-year-old boy.

>> November 1956: A 1,000-pound boulder loosened by torrential rains smashes into a Niu Valley home, stopping short of a bed on which a woman is sitting.

>> April 1958: A Palolo Valley home is hit by a 1-ton boulder.

>> July 1958: A boulder crashes into an Aina Haina yard, narrowly missing a mother and her three children.

>> August 1958: A 2-ton boulder crashes into a Kalihi bedroom, missing two children.

>> June 1960: A rock damages a Lanikai garage and misses children's bedroom.

>> October 1960: Two 1-ton boulders crashes into a Kalihi Valley home.

>> February 1961: A 2-ton rock strikes an Aina Haina home.

>> March 1961: A boulder crushes a car outside Palolo Valley Home.

>> January 1962: A 2-ton boulder crashes through the roof of a Manoa Valley home.

>> August 1962: Eight-year-old Lei Ushijima is killed by a boulder at her Aina Haina home.

>> September 1962: A 6-ton boulder crashes through the wall of an Aina Haina home, causing a woman and her two daughters to run from the house.

>> September 1965: A 2-ton boulder crushes Henry and Konimi Cho in their Manoa living room. (See related story.)

>> April 1970: A Waianae woman is injured when a boulder rolls down a hillside and strikes her car in Moanalua Valley.

>> February 1974: A falling boulder on the beach in Kihei, Maui, kills a Canadian visitor.

>> September 1992: A boulder tumbles down the north side of Manoa Valley and smashes into a Huelani Drive house struck by a boulder in 1977.

>> October 1992: A girl is injured when a boulder crashes through her family's Niu Valley home.

>> February 1993: A boulder falls on a female hiker on a ridge above Pali Highway.

>> March 1993: A 2 1/2-foot-tall boulder falls off a sheer cliff face and crashes into a back corner of a Palolo Valley home.

>> April 1993: A 10-ton boulder rolls down a Manoa hillside and smashes into a house.

>> May 1999: Eight people are killed in the Mother's Day rockslide at Sacred Falls Park.

>> March 2000: A rockslide near Waimea Bay temporarily closes a stretch of Kamehameha Highway.

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