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Recovery cheers governor

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    Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Hawaii County Mayor William Kanoi greeted a cleanup worker yesterday in Kona.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie yesterday toured areas of the Big Island and Maui hardest hit by Friday’s tsunami and returned to Oahu with an upbeat message that Hawaii remains open for business even as it digs out from muck and debris.

"I can’t thank the county and state workers enough," Abercrombie said after emerging from a Hawaii National Guard C-26 turbo prop at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam yesterday afternoon. "People are working together. They are succeeding in bringing everything back to normal as it can be."

A structural engineer inspected Kailua-Kona Pier and determined it can accept the 2,000-passenger cruise ship Pride of America next Wednesday after the ship canceled its normal Big Island stop following the tsunami, said William Aila, director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, who joined Abercrombie on the trip.

Although asphalt damaged by the tsunami still needs to be repaired at the pier, "everybody in Kona is extremely happy about the cruise ship arriving," Aila said.

DLNR divers discovered some reef damage to Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island yesterday after the tsunami dragged a two-story house from its foundation and into the bay, DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward said.

But the damage to the reef was not as bad as initially feared, Ward said.

After volunteer free-divers cleared much of the home’s debris from the bay, Ward said the only large section that has to be removed by a commercial salvage company is a remnant of the home’s roof and its supporting rafters that continued to float in shallow water.

DLNR also plans underwater inspections and surveys of boats that sank at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu to determine who owns the boats, Ward said.

The survey will include sonar scans of the topography and debris, which includes pieces of broken docks, sunken vessels and broken dock piles, she said.

Abercrombie’s office has roughly calculated the statewide tsunami damage at tens of millions of dollars. Abercrombie said a more specific calculation will take days.

Whatever the price tag ends up being, "it’s sufficient to trigger federal support, sufficient to trigger other grants and loans that are necessary for us to get back on track in terms of construction and repairs," Abercrombie said.

He told neighbor island businesses, "We’re doing all the steps necessary, legally, through the proclamations to be prepared to get loans, to get grants. But that’s not going to stop us from getting started right away. Both county workers and state workers are already working with local businesses to see that we’re back on track."

Perhaps the best example of how businesses continue to operate was seen at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, where water surged through the ground floor and left sand, debris and water damage, Abercrombie said.

"As people were sweeping up they were checking people in," Abercrombie said. "Everybody was really working very, very hard to get everything on track. The biggest impression on me is how fast we’re coming back from the damage that was done."

Abercrombie was impressed by the force of the tsunami and said no one was seriously hurt or killed because "everybody paid attention. There were a few lolos out there. … Aside from those folks, everybody else paid attention, everybody else worked in concert. That was commented on over and over again by the visitors."

"The gods are showing us that we’re going to cut you folks some slack," Abercrombie said. "Maybe it’s because you’re such good people."


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