Categorized | News, Tsunami, Videos

Tsunami 2011: Yagong calls emergency council meeting

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Video by David Corrigan | Big Island Video News

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

Council Chairman Dominic Yagong called an emergency meeting of the council Saturday evening to hear tsunami updates from Mayor Billy Kenoi and Civil Defense Administrator Quince Mento.

Five members of the council appeared in the West Hawaii Civic Center – Yagong, Brenda Ford, Pete Hoffmann, Angel Pilago and Brittany Smart. J Yoshimoto was in the Hilo council room.

Donald Ikeda, Dennis ‘Fresh’ Onishi and Fred Blas was absent. It was not clear whether they have yet returned from a national council conference on the mainland.

Kona Councilman Angel Pilago thanked the mayor, Mento and Deputy Managing Director Wally Lau for attending the meeting, despite having been on duty for nearly 72 hours.

Pilago called the tsunami an ‘unprecedented event’ and said the council wanted to make sure it was ‘in step’ with the county administration.

Mento, videoconferencing from Hilo, said the tsunami had effects islandwide, although West Hawaii took the brunt of it.

Mento said he had one report of a wave coming over Kalanianaole Avenue in Hilo, but no reports of damage. However, he added, reports still are coming in from around the island.

So far, Mento said he has confirmation that:

* 11 homes have been severely damaged; 2 are deemed unrepairable
* 51 businesses have reported damage; 8 are unrecoverable; 25 sustained major damage
* 6 apartment or condo complexes have reported major damage; 19 have minor damage
* 1 county pump station was damaged, but remains operable

He also confirmed reports that 20 hale (or cabins) at Kona Village Resort shifted from their foundations. He could not say whether they were total write-offs.

Mento also said Four Seasons Hualalai Resort will be closed for a few days.

No waste water or sewage has been reported spilled, he said, and the few broken water lines have been repaired.

Having the West Hawaii emergency operations center in the new civic building made a huge difference, he said. During last year’s Chile tsunami threat, all personnel were working out of Hilo.

This year, he said, “we had half the amount of time and it was in the dark.”

The Chile tsunami took about 12 hours to reach Hawaii shortly before noon. This time, it took about 7 hours and hit Hawaii shores shortly after 3 a.m.

Mento said the county emergency operations centers were fully staffed and ready to react within 45 minutes of the tsunami warning.

Ford said she had spent part of Saturday in Napoopoo, where at least seven homes are uninhabitable, including one home that was washed into Kealakekua Bay and sunk. Its rooftop is barely visible above the water.

“It is far worse than I anticipated,” she said.

Ford said residents are asking for three things from the county: dump trucks to help remove debris; extended open hours at the transfer station to drop off debris; and help controlling traffic, as many people are coming down to take a first-hand look.

Kenoi said the full resources of the county are available to help residents. A spigot has been installed to ensure residents have a fresh water source and additional port-a-potties have been trucked in.

Smart, whose district runs up to Napoopoo Road, requested the county help coordinate a volunteer dive effort to remove debris – which includes the house and possibly a vehicle – from the bay.

Kenoi said the bay is a state conservation area and any clean up plans would need to be coordinated through DLNR.

Yoshimoto urged Yagong to make sure the meeting was appropriate and met requirements.

The council also took public testimony. Two people in West Hawaii testified.

Steve Lopez said this is ‘a golden opportunity’ to use whatever state and federal money is offered to improve Kailua Village.

Debbie Baker, executive director of Kailua Village Business Improvement District, said wanted the council to know two things.

“First, Kailua Village is open for business,” she said, praising the resilience of business owners and quick clean-up by county crews.

Second, Baker said, is the importance of Kailua Pier, which serves as cruise ship drop-off site and is integral to the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, Ironman triathlon world championship, paddling regattas and many other local events.

Baker said she had no doubt village business owners, the community and county crews would “come together and handle” the clean up and repairs to stores along Alii Drive.

“That pier is a real life-blood for many businesses. There would be a severe impact if it closed for any length of time,” she said. “It’s one of our focal points and we can’t fix it.”

Baker urged the council to work with state and federal agencies to ensure the pier is operational.

After the meeting, Hoffmann said he still wants the administration to tell him why no shelters were opened in his Kohala district. Hoffmann said he ordered the school to open to assist stranded hotel guests and residents.

Also after the meeting, Pilago said he wants the mayor’s assurance that ancient burials and historical sites will be a priority.

Pilago said he also wants Kenoi to support Big Island lawmakers as they seek state assistance.

Rep. Bob Herkes and Sen. Josh Green are preparing resolutions on tsunami mitigation and recovery, Pilago said.

State assessment teams are due Sunday on the Big Island, including the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over Kailua Pier.

All county agencies and offices are scheduled to attend a debriefing and review Wednesday.

“We’ll learn something every time,” Kenoi said.

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