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Hawaii tsunami damages estimated at $30 million


Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 7:03 p.m. HST, Mar 24, 2011

Hawaii disaster response officials estimated Thursday the state suffered damages exceeding $30 million during this month's tsunami, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he's requesting federal disaster aid.

Hawaii State Civil Defense reported damages to private property amounted to $22 million, and government property damages reached $8.5 million.

Abercrombie said he formally asked for help Thursday from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which could issue an administrative disaster declaration for low-interest loans to homeowners, renters, businesses and nonprofits.

He'll also seek a presidential disaster declaration from President Barack Obama, which would trigger federal assistance for repairs to public structures damaged by tsunami waves, including piers, moorings, planks, electrical wiring and roads.

"These are the follow-up steps to help those affected by the tsunami," Abercrombie said in a statement. "We are looking at every option that may be available to provide financial assistance to those who need it."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration and Civil Defense traveled to the Big Island, Maui and Oahu to assess damages this week. They completed their evaluation Thursday.

FEMA help would pay for 75 percent of government property repair costs, with state and county governments having to match the remaining 25 percent, said Casey De Shong, a FEMA external affairs officer.

"We certainly did see a lot of damage to a lot of piers and infrastructure," De Shong said. Hawaii officials "felt it was a significant amount of damage that could possibly warrant a federal disaster declaration."

Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz said he met with FEMA officials this week in Washington, D.C., to discuss the state's plea for help.

"We're very hopeful that the request will be approved," Schatz said by phone from Washington, D.C. "We're working closely with FEMA, and we think it's likely we'll qualify for reimbursement."

FEMA's program for infrastructure assistance requires damages to exceed $1.30 per person statewide, which amounts to about $1.8 million in Hawaii, De Shong said.

Damage to county government property must amount to $3.27 per person to qualify, meaning Hawaii County, Maui County and Honolulu appear to be eligible.

Once Abercrombie's requests for disaster declarations are approved, business and home owners could start applying for loans from the Small Business Administration, said spokeswoman Jane Sawyer. She said SBA teams usually arrive within 24 to 48 hours.

"It looks so nominal after what we witnessed in Japan, but of course West Hawaii got hit really hard, and Molokai homes were hit, and West Maui had a lot of damage," Sawyer said.

Losses reached $13.5 million for Big Island businesses, $2.5 million for Big Island homes, $600,000 for Maui County homes and $5.5 million for other private property statewide, including boats, according to Civil Defense estimates.

Government property damages amounted to $3.4 million on Oahu, $2.7 million in Maui County, $2.3 million on the Big Island and $60,000 in Kauai County.

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