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Obama declares disaster for Hawaii

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The state is eligible to receive federal money to help recovery efforts from last month’s tsunami caused by the massive earthquake in Japan, after the signing yesterday of a major disaster declaration by President Barack Obama.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie sought the federal help to assist with an estimated $30 million in damage to public and private property after the tsunami that hit Hawaii the morning of March 11.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials along with state and local teams assessed damage last month and determined parts of the Big Island, Maui and Oahu met the criteria for supplemental federal disaster assistance. Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz traveled to Washington, D.C., last month to meet and coordinate efforts with FEMA and the White House.

"This enables us to repair our infrastructure, especially in our harbors and roads, and get reimbursed through FEMA," Schatz said. "This was a great team effort, and it will accelerate our recovery process."

The Big Island’s Kona coast was the state’s hardest-hit area. The Kona Village and Resort is closed indefinitely and 200 employees are out of work after many of its bungalows and restaurants were wrecked. King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel and at least three other resorts also sustained significant damage.

On Oahu, the tsunami caused an estimated $3 million in damage at the Keehi Lagoon Small Boat Harbor, where 25 boats sank and two-thirds of the docks were destroyed. Haleiwa and Ala Wai small boat harbors sustained an estimated $263,000 and $32,500 in damage, respectively.

Obama’s disaster declaration provides 75 percent matching funds for repair or replacement of public infrastructure and nonprofit facilities in affected counties. Federal money also is available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

According to the White House, additional areas may be designated for assistance at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.

FEMA plans to establish a joint field office in the state.

Residents who would like more information about tsunami recovery assistance may call 211.

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