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Waves bring flooding on Maui, damage in Kailua-Kona

By Michael Tsai

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 08:30 p.m. HST, Mar 11, 2011


On the Neighbor Islands, damage was reported in Kailua-Kona and flooding was reported in Kahului, where the surge reached a third of a mile inland.

Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi's office confirmed that "damaging waves" hit Kailua-Kona around 5:30 a.m., roughly two hours after the first surge was expected. The waves caused relatively minor but widespread damage in the area.

According to Hawaii County Civil Defense official John Drummond, a foot of water rushed into the lobby of the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel; the water also destroyed several canoes stored in front of the hotel.

Water also entered the interior of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and several other businesses fronting Kailua Bay. While wave heights have not yet been determined, Kenoi's office received reports that some of the surges reached the tops of portable toilet booths in the area.

The damage was discovered this morning when police officers and other county workers returned to the inundation zone.

County spokesperson Hunter Bishop said that surges were still being reported as of 8 a.m. this morning. He stressed that the Big Island is still observing tsunami warning precautions and that residents should continue to stay away from coastal areas until the county makes an "all clear" declaration.

Big Island Civil Defense is also looking into reports that a house in Kealakekua was swept away by the rising waters.

According to multiple reports out of Maui, waves crossed Kaahumanu Street in Kahului, reaching six to eight inches on the roadway at one point.

Maui County spokesperson Rod Antone said county officials tracked the progress of the waves overnight from atop a nearby building.

This morning, Mayor Alan Arakawa joined directors from Public Works, Wastewater Management and the Department of Water Supply in a helicopter fly-over of the island to assess the damage.

Two initial surges of six to seven feet hit Kahului in the first hours of the tsunami. A third, more powerful surge, which included waves estimated at 9 feet, followed just before daybreak and advanced as much as a block inland.

Gerard Fryer, scientist with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, said the water reached a third of mile inland.

South Kihei Road was also reported to be flooded.

Arakawa confirmed that some low-lying areas had been flooded and that businesses near Kahului Harbor were damaged by water.

Major damage was reported to all of the docks at Maalaea Boat Harbor, as well as to four boats moored there.

Kahana Beach Park is flooded; other parks, such as Kamaole II and Kalepolepo Park, which were already damaged by high rains earlier this year, also sustained significant damage.

On Amala Street, a 40- to 50-pound sea turtle was discovered washed ashore near Kahana Beach Park. Maui firefighters attempted to return it to the ocean.

Kahului International Airport is open but roads leading to the airport remain closed.

While most roads and streets in the inundation zone remain closed, Maui police did reopen two high-traffic intersections: Hana and Haleakala Highways and Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue.

Antone said the island's 14 evacuation centers were filled, with as many as 500 people in some facilities.

There were no immediate reports of damage on Kauai, which was the first island to have the tsunami warning lifted at about 7:30 a.m.

On the Big Island, an estimated 1,000 people took shelter in 15 evacuation centers set up around the island, according to Kenoi's office.

About 100 guests from the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, on Banyan Drive next to Hilo Bay, accepted an invitation from Prince Kuhio Plaza mall manager Kimberley Shimabuku to spend the night at the mall. Other guests of the hotel were relocated to hotels and residences located further from the bay.

Neighbor Island civil defense departments reacted swiftly once yesterday's tsunami watch was upgraded to a warning.

Big Island, Maui and Kauai officials all initiated evacuations of low-lying areas around 10 p.m. and posted warnings and advice via their websites and phone message lines.

The warning center provided continually updated predictions on when different coastal areas could expect to be hit, starting with Nawiliwili on Kauai and continuing through Honolulu, Kahului and Hilo.

"We had good leeway time," said Big Island civil defense officer Duane Hosaka.

By 2 a.m. all neighbor island airports had been closed in anticipation of the tidal wave. Lihue Airport on Kauai was open by 7:45 a.m.

At 2:30 a.m., inundation zones along the north shore of Kauai from Hanalei to Kee had been cleared by police, according to resident Tom Finnegan. County officials had announced they were concentrating on securing the Poipu and North Shore resort communities. Traffic into those areas was shut down at 2:15 a.m., he said.

"It's eerily quiet," Finnegan said. "Everybody panicked between 10 and 12, and now people have hunkered down in front of their TVs." 

The parking lot at the Princeville Shopping Center was full, even though no stores were open. Finnegan said about 150 vehicles were parked there with people asleep inside. "It looks like the middle of the day in a busy shopping center except not one store is open," he said.

Although Kauai is still under a tsunami warning, the County of Kauai plans to proceed with business as usual. Employees are advised to monitor the media for road closures and other information, and to report to work as they are able.

The County's Ocean Safety Bureau advises all persons to stay out of the ocean for the remainder of the day today, even after the tsunami warning is lifted. 

———

Rod Thompson on the Big Island contributed to this report.






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