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Crews off to assess damage

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    Gov. Neil Abercrombie met with state civil defense workers in the emergency operating center Friday morning in Diamond Head to thank them for their efforts to warn the public of the effects generated by the earthquakes in Japan.

State civil defense crews will head to Maui and Molokai today to continue damage assessments from Friday’s tsunami.

Those crews visited the Big Island yesterday and confirmed much of the damage to dozens of apartments and Hulihee Palace on Alii Drive reported by Hawaii County civil defense, said state civil defense spokeswoman Shelly Ichishita.

She said the crews will give a briefing of what they observed yesterday at 8 a.m. today and then head out for damage assessments on the other neighbor islands. Yesterday was the first time the state civil defense visited islands other than Oahu.

Ichishita said civil defense has received reports from the American Red Cross, which is helping residents with damage assessments, that much of the damage in Kona was to vacation rentals. Those properties do not meet the requirements for Red Cross aid, but could be eligible for supplemental federal aid, she said.

Crews will check out reports of damage to residences in Wailuku, Sprecklesville and Kihei, Maui, today, she said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Neil Abercrombie issued a supplemental emergency proclamation yesterday in response to tsunami damage.

The proclamation said a major disaster and catastrophe occurred in certain areas of the state, allowing state money to be spent on repairs.

To speed up relief efforts, the proclamation allows commercial and personal loans and suspends dozens of laws, such as historic preservation, lapsing of appropriations and collective bargaining.

After weathering his first civil defense challenge as the state’s top official, Abercrombie said the "seamless operation" was due to prior long-range planning, past disaster drills and experiences after last year’s earthquake off Chile.

Meeting with workers Friday in the state civil defense emergency operating center in Diamond Head Crater, Abercrombie praised the planning done by a team led by Maj. Gen. Darryll Wong, who doubles as state civil defense director and head of the Hawaii Air and Army National Guard, and his deputy, Ed Teixeira.

"It was a quantum leap," Teixeira said, referring to the civil defense operation of Feb. 27, 2010, after the Chilean earthquake and subsequent tsunami warning.

The earthquake and tsunami in Samoa in September 2009 and the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti might have added to Hawaii’s "high sense of preparedness," Teixeira said.

John Cummings, spokesman for the city Emergency Management Department, said, "We got lucky one more time."

He noted that, as with the Chilean quake, there was ample time to warn the public, and it took place when businesses and schools were closed.

Cummings also noted that since August the city has established a subscriber-based texting service where emergency alerts are sent to cell phones. More than 4,000 people have signed on to the city’s text e-mail alerts.

"That kept the volume of calls down," Cummings said.

However, Cummings said city officials will not know until early this week how many sirens failed.

"We still need more sirens," Cummings added.

The sirens sounded five times Thursday night, with each pulse lasting three minutes until dawn.

Since the earthquake in Chile, Teixeira said, state emergency planners have held several drills and exercises, and "we were much better prepared."

"We were very fortunate," Teixeira added.

Besides thanking state civil defense workers and planners for their efforts, Abercrombie said people should count their blessings because "we are prepared to be safe."

Later, in a written statement, Abercrombie added, "Although we were fortunate that a more destructive tsunami did not materialize, I can assure everyone that our agencies and officials are well prepared to respond to emergencies of this nature. I want to thank our residents who live in inundation zones who heeded the directions of our first responders and civil defense agencies. I also appreciate the hard work of everyone involved in the disaster-preparedness effort."

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