By: Lee Cataluna; Star-Advertiser; April 18, 2018
There are now rolls of wet carpet along the curbs in Niu Valley, Aina Haina and the stretch of Kalanianaole Highway that connects the two neighborhoods. Outside some houses, the carpet sits next to pieces of unsalvageable furniture that fell victim to Friday’s sudden flooding. But the roads have been scraped clear.
Early in the morning after all that scary lightning and torrential rain, city and country trucks mobilized on residential streets, and state crews were out in force scooping up mud and debris along Kalanianaole. Local government was clearly on the job.
It is an election year.
Just pointing that out seems cynical. Surely help would be prompt regardless of political pressure. Most people want to help.
But it is a plain fact that every politician knows: When there is a natural disaster, elected officials are judged by their actions in the aftermath. Raging storms not only threaten houses; they can irreparably damage political ambitions.
It all has to be handled skillfully, though. Going out with shovels and campaign T-shirts and a team to post pics on social media can be worse than not going out at all.
East Honolulu has a history of floods, although each time it happens it seems like a surprise. Longtime residents in the valley vividly recall the New Year’s flood of 1988 when a thunderstorm brought a deluge of rainwater that overwhelmed the valley’s drainage canals, causing $26.7 million in damage.
The morning after that flood, the mayor and governor raced out to East Honolulu to see and be seen. The newspaper reported:
“On New Year’s Day, the governor and mayor weren’t warm and snug in front of their TV’s, but out in muck and mire seeing flood damage for themselves and cutting through red tape in the rain with each other to facilitate help. Gov. John Waihee left an afternoon reception and later his limousine to join state Civil Defense Director Maj. Gen. Alex Lum in Lum’s new four-wheel-drive pickup near the Niu Valley Floor area.”
As Waihee’s group drove through the mud, there, coming from the other direction, was Mayor Frank Fasi. Fasi took hold of the moment and asked Waihee for all the heavy equipment the state could muster. Waihee promised to send in the National Guard, and the exchange was noted by the press.
In December 1967 Niu Stream overflowed its banks, and 200 residents had to be evacuated to a shelter in the dark hours before dawn. The newspaper coverage of the damage shows Mayor Neal Blaisdell in rubber boots wading through water the next morning. We like to see our leaders right in the mud with us. We like to know that they understand what we’re going through and know what to do next.
Cleanup and reconstruction will go on for untold months, both in East Honolulu and on Kauai, which suffered unfathomable destruction over the weekend. This work of restoration will coincide with the revving up of political campaigns, and candidates will be judged not only by what they did, but when they showed up and how earnestly they helped.