East Hawaii News

Lawmakers Urge Biden to Approve Disaster Declaration Request for Kona Low Damages

January 20, 2022, 2:00 PM HST
* Updated January 20, 1:51 PM
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Hawai‘i’s congressional delegation in Washington is urging President Joe Biden to approve a request from Gov. David Ige for a presidential disaster declaration in connection with the Kona low storm that ransacked portions of the state in December.

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and U.S. Reps Ed Case and Kai Kahele, all Democrats, asked Biden in a letter to act swiftly on Ige’s request for areas throughout the state impacted by last month’s storm that caused severe weather and flooding.

The declaration would help ensure that affected communities can access federal funding and resources to recover.

“The impacts from this prolonged weather event were significant, and we urge you to declare a major disaster to speed recovery from the damages it caused,” says the delegation’s letter. “These impacts have disrupted lives and damaged property, forcing some residents to evacuate their homes. Recovery from this destructive storm is further complicated by the continuing impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and the contamination of drinking water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and surrounding communities. As such, the people of Hawai‘i need all available assistance from the federal government to recover from the storm amid these ongoing crises.”

The storm swept through the state from Dec. 4-10.

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A Kona low is a subtropical cyclone that occurs during the cool season in the Pacific Ocean characterized by heavy rains, flash floods, landslides, high winds, large surf and swells, waterspouts, severe thunderstorms and even hail. The main rain band of the storm hit Hawai‘i County on Dec. 5, then slowly moved across the island chain until it cleared Kaua‘i County on Dec. 8.

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“Over the 72-hour period, the maximum rainfall total reported on O‘ahu was 12.83 inches of rain, with a single-day record of 7.92 inches of rain being set on Dec. 6,” the letter to Biden reads. “During that same period, the maximum rainfall on Maui was 12.89 inches of rain. Hawai‘i County received a maximum of 14.26 inches of rain, with peak (wind) gusts greater than 100 miles per hour recorded on the summit of Maunakea, prompting a blizzard warning. In addition, the Kona low drove nearshore waves of up to 30 feet, causing coastal inundation.”

The lawmakers explained that the storm’s impacts disrupted lives and damaged property, forcing some residents to evacuate their homes. Recovery from the Kona low is further complicated by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the contamination of drinking water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and surrounding communities on O‘ahu.

“As such, the people of Hawai‘i need all available assistance from the federal government to recover from the storm amid these ongoing crises,” the lawmakers wrote.

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Specifically, Ige’s presidential disaster declaration request is for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for the entire state, as well as public assistance for Maui County and the City and County of Honolulu.

“The impacts from this prolonged weather event were significant, and we urge you to declare a major disaster to speed recovery from the damages it caused,” the lawmakers wrote to Biden.

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