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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 23, 2010

Boulders hit Kalihi complex

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Two large boulders came to rest against Kalihi Valley Homes in Kalihi Valley yesterday after becoming dislodged and rolling down the hillside.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Nine families at a Kalihi Valley apartment complex have been temporarily relocated after two boulders one the size of a car rumbled down a hillside and crashed into their building yesterday morning.

No one was hurt, and the boulders did not penetrate the two-story, concrete block apartment building at Kalihi Valley Homes, a government housing complex. But the impact knocked cabinets off walls and caused rebar to punch through a wall.

The nine families will stay in vacant units at the complex until at least Wednesday while an engineer and a geologist assess the hillside's stability, said Alan Sarhan, a planner with the Hawai'i Housing Authority.

"It felt like it was an earthquake," said resident Sese Sakaria, 57, who was asleep in a second-floor bedroom above where the boulders landed about 8:30 a.m. "The floor began to shake. I woke up when I heard a neighbor calling my daughter, who wasn't home at the time. I am lucky.

"I will be going to church to thank God."

The two boulders crashed through a chain-link fence above the complex before coming to rest on a patio, near clotheslines filled with clothes.

Normally, children are outside playing and adults are out doing laundry, said Ligo Letuli, Kalihi Valley Homes deputy manager.

"These are family units," Letuli said. "It is one of those unfortunate things that happen."

It is not uncommon for boulders to come down from Isle hillsides, including those in populated areas. In August 2002, Dara Onishi, 25, was killed when a boulder hit her family's Nu'uanu home as she slept. Three months later two boulders the size of garbage Dumpsters rumbled down the hillside above the Lalea condominium in Hawai'i Kai, prompting the evacuation of 26 families for 11 months.

In yesterday's incident, the biggest boulder was about 8 feet high.

The boulders appear to have come from an area owned by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, the agency said last night. The agency hired a geotechnical engineering firm to assess the area and make recommendations for immediate corrective action, agency spokeswoman Moani Wright-Van Alst said in a news release.

The agency was also working to hire a contractor to remove the fallen boulders, she said.

The housing authority is sending out a structural engineer and a geologist to do an assessment, Sarhan said.

The displaced families were allowed into their homes to get medication. Letuli said additional security will be hired to ensure that the residents' vacated apartments aren't looted.

The building affected by the boulders was recently renovated, Sarhan said. The impact might have affected the electrical and water pipes in the building, he said.

Sister Patty Johnson, who has lived at Kalihi Valley Homes for 20 years, said it was the first such rockfall there she has experienced. Johnson, who is with the Sisters of St. Joseph, operates a lending library out of the home that she shares with another sister, Brenda Lau.

The boulder damaged their kitchen wall and rebar is sticking out of the wall, Johnson said.

"It looks like the rebar punched through," Johnson said. "The police tell me the damage is pretty extensive. They won't let us in there. Fortunately, no one was hurt."

Ironically, Johnson said every time she is outside hanging laundry she thinks about how close the mountain is and how easy it would be for a boulder to come down.

"I've always been aware of the boulders, but I've never felt in any danger," Johnson said. "I always felt the buildings were sturdy enough to withstand anything."