Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightAlthough Hawaii’s tourism industry survived the March 11 tsunami largely unscathed, the destination did not escape entirely without incident, and the Big Island’s Kona region seems to have suffered the worst of the damage.

Wally Lau, deputy managing director for Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi, offered an update a few days after he and other state officials were able to assess some of the tsunami’s impact.

“The bulk of the damage was in Kailua town, at ‘the wall’ as they call it, and the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel and a lot of the shops there,” Lau explained. “The King Kamehameha was really damaged the most, with the flooding in the lobby. But they stayed open throughout and they are operating. We were just there this morning and they’ve got the lobby pretty much cleaned up.”

None of the hotel’s guestrooms were damaged, and work to clean up the property’s pool area has since been completed. According to Lau, however, the tsunami altered the sandy beach in front of the property significantly.

“There is very, very little sand,” Lau said. “There is a lot of rock and boulders now that are exposed. … The shore that goes up to the hotel is pretty much eaten away.”

Lau also discussed the waves’ impact on properties outside of Kailua-Kona.

“We did have some damage to other hotels up north,” Lau said. “At the Four seasons, I believe one of their restaurants and the pool were damaged. … And up at Kona Village Resort, I believe 20 of their hales got shifted off their foundation.”

The Four Seasons Hualalai sustained “debris-related damage” to a number of its public areas but was scheduled to reopen April 30. At press time, the Kona Village Resort had not announced when it would reopen.

Seven residences near Kealakekua Bay were damaged during the tsunami, including a two-story home that was dislodged from its foundation entirely.

“We saw the roof floating on the water, but we do know that there are other parts of the house that are on the rocks,” Lau said, adding that the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources had already scheduled an inspection at Kealakekua. “So the divers will be going out tomorrow to assess that situation and how best to take [the home] away.”

Lau said he wasn’t sure if the coral reef at Kealakekua, some of the most pristine found anywhere in Hawaii, had been damaged.

“I would assume so,” he said. “But I think the divers will give us a complete assessment.

“We got word that there were about 200 volunteers that went into Kealakekua Bay and on the shore to take away litter and things floating in the water and the beach itself,” Lau continued. “So a lot of hands came together there after the tsunami.”

The Kona region received some good news on March 16 after state engineers inspected the Kailua pier and certified it structurally sound. On March 23, the town is scheduled to welcome its first Norwegian Cruise Line vessel since the tsunami.

Lau stressed that the Big Island is absolutely open to visitors and for just about all of the destination, it’s back to business as usual.

“We don’t want to downplay, because we do have several businesses and small guys that got hit,” Lau said. “We definitely feel for those guys that are struggling right now to get their businesses open, but on the other side, there are a lot of businesses that are open, and we’re doing OK. We feel that we’ve got things under control. … We are on the road to recovery, and everybody is working together.”
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