Governor to request disaster declaration as Iao Stream damage surpasses $15 million


Gov. David Ige says he plans to ask President Obama for federal assistance for Maui communities hardest hit by last week’s flooding.

Officials tell us costly recovery efforts will take months. The storm damage was an eye-opener for Ige, who surveyed the area Thursday.

“It truly is a sobering reminder of the power of nature,” he said, and promised to send a letter, requesting a presidential disaster declaration for public assistance.

Ige took a 30-minute aerial tour of the site aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter before surveying the disaster site on the ground where he met with residents directly affected by the storm.

For Iao Valley residents, this has been their reality for days. The Higa family lost everything when the river ripped through their home.

“For us at this point, we lost everything. We lost everything we owned, all the riches and all the fancy things you want in your life, but what this has taught me is the most valuable thing I had (my family) was sitting right in front of me and it never cost a penny,” said flood victim Lisa Higa.

Flooding caused at least $15 million in damage to public property alone, and that number could rise as officials continue to assess the area.

Thirty members of the Hawaii Air and Army National Guard were activated to help with debris removal, which diverted the stream flow into residential areas. The governor told us Thursday the stream had moved by more than 100 feet.

“This is going to be a large project. Very expensive. It’s going to take months and months to try and secure this area, but it’s going to be worth it,” said Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa.

That evening, officials held a community meeting in Wailuku to talk about repairs, emergency measures, and concerns about future flooding.

Iao Valley resident Glen Fukagaya said clearing debris out of waterways is “not good enough. They’ve got to relocate the river, put it back where it was in the beginning, because the sides of the road, the walkway area where they live, it’s all gone. It’s all falling down, the sides. If they don’t move the river, it will eat up that portion of roadway, which has my neighbors, and they’re going to lose the roadway.”

Glen added, “They’re going to have to (restore the river to its original state). If they’re not, we’re going to lose property. There’s a lot of landowners down below, they’re worried about property.”

Damage goes beyond the stream and homes.

Arakawa said officials also need to come up with a plan on how to fix Kepaniwai Park and Iao Valley State Park. Both were heavily damaged from the storm and are closed to the public because it’s not safe. We’re told it could take months to reopen.

The closures will impact both visitors and surrounding residents, who also have more to worry about.

“I think there’s two things that need to be done. One is emergency fixes. We need protection to protect our homes,” said Kainoa Horcajo, “and long-term, we need to talk about a plan to protect homes to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

About 20 families were directly impacted by the storm, but that doesn’t count the many more who live near Iao Valley and are also impacted.

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