Categorized | News, Tsunami

Tsunami 2011: Update from Mayor Kenoi (March 12)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

Mayor Billy Kenoi returned to the Big Island early Saturday and immediately began assessing the damage from Friday’s tsunami.

“There is no doubt, we took a straight shot here,” he said, after spending much of the day conducting aerial and walking tours of West Hawaii.

Kenoi was in Washington, D.C. when he was informed of the threat Thursday evening following the 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan. (Japanese Meteorological Agency has revised it from a 8.9 to a 9.0.)

“Right away I had two cell phones going – one to the Emergency Operations Center in Hilo and one to West Hawaii – and I had my laptop out as well,” Kenoi said. “I was in constant contact all night.”

Kenoi said he proud of the county workers and community volunteers who responded quickly to protect lives and property.

“I couldn’t be prouder. Everybody knows where they are supposed to be and did a wonderful job. People I talked to today were really stoked that our county employees were right on it,” he said. “I’m very appreciative that we didn’t lose a single life. Property we can fix or replace; a human life we can’t.”

The mayor said he has been in contact with Sen. Daniel Inouye, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Mike McCartney, the Big Island Visitors Bureau and the state Civil Defense. All have pledged their support, he said.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Kenoi already have signed emergency proclamations and will be seeking federal funds to repair public facilities and roads. Federal funds are also available for small businesses, Kenoi said.

Late Thursday from Washington D.C., Kenoi empowered Deputy Managing Director Wally Lau to make decisions that needed to made in West Hawaii.

“We knew we needed leadership on the ground in West Hawaii,” Kenoi said. “Everybody was prepared. We had excellent coordination and support.”

Kenoi said he has no reports of looting at homes or businesses within the evacuation zone.

“We shut it down. Once you are out, no-one goes back in until the all clear,” he said. “That’s not only for safety, but to prevent things like looting. Everybody was cool.”

Kenoi also thanked Big Island residents and visitors for making sure they stayed safe and letting emergency and response crews do their job.

County crews and personnel still are collecting data and surveying damage, Kenoi said, and no dollar amount has yet been tallied.

A team of 25 Housing and Community Development workers were going door-to-door Saturday along the Kona Coast to determine damage, he said. That include residences and businesses, he said.

Kenoi said he spent much of Saturday visiting businesses along Alii Drive and Napoopoo, a village of about 150-200 residents on Kealakekua Bay. He also did an aerial survey.

“You can see the impact everywhere,” he said. “It was amazing to see, just the power that must have taken.”

The mayor said one county worker who was reported injured, but it was not tsunami related.

Lau said county personnel are well prepared for any disaster and applied what they from last year’s tsunami threat following the Chile earthquake.

“I think it was 90 percent better. We learned a lot from last year,” he said. “Last year we learned a lot about preparation. This year, we had to respond.”

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