"It was just a sea of mud, completely dark, we couldn't really tell what was going on". UH Manoa Head Preservationist Lynn Davis still recalls the flash flood of '04. It damaged 32 buildings on campus, along with a million or so documents.
It was her job to save the most valuable of them.
"The preservation department has a disaster plan in place, so we just needed to start amping it up" she recalled.
Davis identified approximately 60,000 maps of Hawaii and the Pacific region as top of the list. For Davis, saving them was a personal mission as much as it was a professional obligation.
"Every map tells us something about who we are in this space in Hawaii and the larger space of the Pacific".
Saving the incredibly delicate maps – some dating back hundreds of years – that were caked in mud was a multi-step process. The first step was freezing them. Davis explained that freezing the maps bought the department time and prevented the onset of mold.
From there, the University received FEMA assistance. They were able to contract out preservation work on two thirds of the maps. Through tireless, and countless man hours of work, over 99% of the maps were saved.
Now, the exhibit “Finding the Silver Lining of the Manoa Flood” recounts those efforts. It is currently on display, open and free to the public, at Hamilton Library.
"I wanted to show people what the path was, what we had to do, and where we are now" said Davis of the exhibit.
Where they are now, is close to being done. Only two more maps in need of treatment remain.