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Tuesday, October 21, 2014         

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Tsunami cripples 2 Big Isle hotels

Kona Village and its sister Hualalai resort are the only large properties still closed

By Allison Schaefers

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The Kona Village Resort's future is uncertain after an earthquake-generated tsunami knocked thatched-roof hales off their foundation and caused extensive damage that prevented employees from returning to work and some guests from picking up the belongings they left behind in the evacuation.

Damage at its sister property, the neighboring Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, also was extensive enough to push back its reopening date to April 30.

The properties, owned primarily by MSD Capital, the company founded by computer magnate Michael Dell, and Rockport Group, are the hardest hit hotels in Hawaii and the only large isle resorts still closed in the tsunami's aftermath. Owners, insurance adjustors and building specialists are still evaluating losses, said Patrick Fitzgerald, president and chief executive officer of the Four Seasons Hualalai Resort and Kona Village Resort.

While Hualalai is slated to reopen in six weeks, it could be days or weeks before a determination is made regarding Kona Village, Fitzgerald said.

"We are trying to review when it can possibly be opened again, if at all," he said "Structural and infrastructure damage is so significant that it's unsafe for people to be here. We still have guests who have been unable to go back to the hales for their belongings."

Fitzgerald said the entire south side of the Kona Village Resort and most of the areas around its pond were affected. The 45-year-old resort's water, gas and electrical infrastructure were badly damaged, along with about 30 percent of the resort's 125 signature hales.

While many of Hawaii's hotels are built to withstand a tsunami, and guests are safe above the fourth floor, the Kona Village's lower-profile, open-air design put it at greater risk.

"Its unfortunate that we got the brunt of it. The very structure which provided the ambience and our locale contributed to some of the damage," Fitzgerald said. "Kona Village is much flatter than Hualalai and once the wave hit, it kept going."

Up to 20 hales sustained major structural damage, he said.

The tsunami generated a wave that went several hundred yards back, pushing hales off their foundations and dragging bar stools into the resort's once pristine ponds.

Another 20 to 30 of the hales sustained varying levels of water damage, Fitzgerald said.

He said two restaurants at the resort also were damaged, along with its outdoor ponds and landscaping.

Kona Village's 250 employees have not worked since the 82-acre resort was evacuated late Thursday.

"They cannot return to work — it's too dangerous," Fitzgerald said. "Right now, they are still on the payroll. We'll meet with them later this week or early next week to give them an update. This is a different situation than what we've got at the Four Seasons Hualalai."

The 15-year-old Hualalai resort's opening, which had been set for March 21, will now have to wait six weeks. Hualalai General Manager Robert Whitfield said concern for guest experience was the primary reason for the delay.

The surge brought water, sand and debris onto the hotel grounds, damaging the pool areas and landscaping. A restaurant and 12 guest rooms and suites also were damaged.

"When I saw the damage, I thought, 'This is not going to open quickly,' and I had concern for my job," said Jeff Strang, a bartender at Hualalai's Beach Tree Bar.

While the resort is closed, employees will be scheduled to work on the restoration and other projects, said Brad Packer, director of public relations at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. The resort will pay its 560 employees their standard rate of pay based on an average number of hours worked per week over the past three pay periods and benefits will be maintained, Packer said. In addition to the base rate, tipped employees will receive average hourly tip/service charge over the same period, he said.

"When they told us (yesterday) that they were going to keep us working, everyone applauded," said Strang, who badly needs the job's benefits since his wife is expecting a baby boy in April. "It was hard to keep the emotions in." 

Since the tsunami, Strang has been part of an employee bucket brigade that is returning the 3 feet of sand that washed up under the bungalows back to the beach.

"When I go home at night, I'm very tired," he said. "I'm thankful, too."






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