Damage at Kailua school prompts hurricane shelter safety concern - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Damage at Kailua school prompts hurricane shelter safety concerns

Gay Kong Gay Kong
Chuck Prentiss Chuck Prentiss
Shelly Kunishige Shelly Kunishige
Peter Hirai Peter Hirai
KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Students at Keolu Elementary will return to classes on Wednesday as crews repair the cafeteria roof damaged by fierce winds. A community leader, however, is still concerned about public safety since the school also serves as a hurricane evacuation shelter.

Crews inspected the cafeteria roof and cleaned up debris a day after strong gusts ripped off most of the tar paper and insulation, leaving behind some serious damage.

"We have found a little more than what we first thought," said principal Gay Kong. "Water has already seeped in so we have that. We also have the structural damage inside the cafeteria."

Tests conducted on Tuesday found asbestos in one area of the cafeteria roof. A Department of Education spokesperson said that section will be sealed off and would not affect the kitchen. Students will eat lunch in a different room on campus while repairs are made.

Keolu Elementary is one of nearly 250 hurricane evacuation shelters statewide. Monday's scare came as no surprise to the Kailua Neighborhood Board chair. Chuck Prentiss said he warned city and state leaders for years after his own experience riding out Hurricane Iniki inside the school's cafeteria.

"The roof was kind of going up and down with the wind and it was only 35, 40 miles an hour. Ever since then, I've questioned whether that's a safe shelter during a disaster," Prentiss said.

"It is someplace that will probably be safer than your single-wall construction homes," explained Peter Hirai, deputy director of the Department of Emergency Management. "If you do live in a newer home, post Iniki, let's say after 1995 or so, they should think about sheltering in place at their house."

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency officials said they constantly evaluate the safety of the sites. The Emergency Shelter Retrofit Program tackles improvements to strengthen public facilities. Projects at 51 schools are currently underway, according to officials.

"We look at things like the building envelope, the roof overhang, basically the protection any of the windows have. We've done tests with wind cannons and other materials," said Shelly Kunishige, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

According to the DOE, the last time crews inspected Keolu Elementary's cafeteria roof was in August 2013. They determined the structure was in good shape and a project to reseal the roof went out to bid. 

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