Boulders fall from Hawaii mountain, hit houses

AP News
Posted: Apr 13, 2012 9:38 PM
Boulders fall from Hawaii mountain, hit houses

Boulders and rocks tumbled down a Honolulu mountainside, smashing into homes, leaving two uninhabitable and forcing residents to evacuate for fear others could follow.

About 12 homes were evacuated late Thursday as crews tried to determine why the six boulders rolled into the hillside neighborhood and whether more might fall. The American Red Cross opened a shelter at Kalihi Valley District Park. The residents were allowed to return at their own risk Friday after a briefing from emergency management officials.

"We feel there's some hazard. We are highly recommending that they seek shelter elsewhere," said John Cummings III, spokesman for the Department of Emergency Management.

Crews broke up and carted away a boulder that came to rest in the middle of Kula Kolea Place. They also patched up dents the boulder left in the asphalt.

"All of a sudden, the boulders rolled down. It wasn't raining or anything," Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Terry Seelig said. "Something must have changed in the terrain up there to allow the boulders to roll." The largest boulder was about three or four tons and about six feet in diameter, he said.

No injuries were reported.

John "Keoni" Maemori said he was using his computer at his home in the hillside neighborhood of Kalihi when he heard an ominous rumbling around 9 p.m.

"Even with my earphones on I heard this rumbling," he said. "It was almost like `Jurassic Park.'"

He noticed a cup rattling and then came a loud crash. "My whole kitchen was gone," he recalled. "There's like three or four holes in my roof."

Maemori was glad to be alive after narrowly dodging one of the boulders that crashed into the back of his house. The boulder split in two, he said, while another boulder he described to be about the size of a Mini Cooper tore the whole side of his next-door neighbor's home.

After the boulder missed him by about 5 feet, Maemori did a quick headcount of his four roommates and found they were all safe. "One guy was actually buried under the debris from the roof," he said, adding the roommate was able to get up on his own after the others moved debris off him. "We're lucky no one was hurt."

Property above the houses is owned by a private landowner and the state, Cummings said.

Rock falls have been a problem in several Oahu neighborhoods. A 26-year-old woman was killed when a 5-by-5 foot boulder rolled down a steep hillside and crashed into her Nuuanu bedroom in 2003. In 2008, a 3- to 4-ton boulder crashed into a bedroom of a Palolo home. The University of Hawaii student renting the room was on a trip home to Kauai at the time.

"It's all part of living on the side of a mountain," said Scott Schafer one of the affected Kalihi residents. "You never know what nature, God, has in store for us _ you just got to be prepared."

Until this, the only thing he saw coming down from the hills were feral pigs.

Maemori, 38, inherited his childhood home when his parents died in 2008. "About 20 years ago, a small rock fell and clipped someone's roof, but never anything of this magnitude," he said. "I know I can fix it but it's going to take time." He estimated about $50,000 in damage.

Other evacuated residents were given time to quickly return for essential belongings, but because Maemori's home and the one next-door sustained the most damage, officials wouldn't let them back in. He left with his cell phone and the tank top and shorts he was wearing. "I didn't even have shoes," he said. "It hasn't really hit me yet. I'm sure when I go up and see the damage in the daytime it'll be pretty bad."


Associated Press writer Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report