HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An apology and a clarification from Honolulu city and county officials Tuesday, one day after half a million gallons of raw sewage overflowed into Waikiki.
All beaches from Point Panic in Kaka'ako to the Kapahulu Groin in Waikiki remain closed until further notice, but officials want to make it very clear -- they say Waikiki is only closed out of "an abundance of caution" due to a statewide brown water advisory and not the sewage spill, which they say only impacted Ala Moana Beach Park.
State officials say water quality samples won't be released until Wednesday and only that will reveal the true scope of Monday's mess, which they were quick to call an "emergency".
"The spill is here in Ala Moana. Our spill is not going to affect Waikiki and go in that direction, but because of the brown water advisory island-wide they asked us to extend it there," explained Lori Kahikina, the Director of Honolulu's Environmental Services Department.
Either way, city officials want residents and visitors to stay out of the water right now because of the potential health risks.
"Would you rather swim with human feces or possibly with animal feces? That's where we're at right now. We can't make it any clearer than that," said Shayne Enright, spokesperson for Honolulu's Emergency Services Department.
Typically packed, even on a Tuesday, one of the most popular beaches in the state was empty. Officials say Ala Moana park will re-open tomorrow, but the water will remain off-limits until further notice. The state health department is expediting testing, but can't say definitely at this time what the extent of the contamination is.
"It depends where the tidal flow is. It depends on the high tide and low tide situation and where the currents are flowing. That's why we're doing sampling in 20 areas from Kaka'ako through Diamond Head area -- basically to determine where the extent of the sewage might have flowed to," said Keith Kawaoka, the Deputy Director of the State Department's Environmental Health Division.
City officials said the problem stemmed from heavy rains Sunday night and debris clogging the city's storm drainage. Plus, they said people illegally opened manholes in their neighborhoods to alleviate flooding -- sending rainwater into the sewer system -- but Tuesday they backed off those claims.
"We can't say for sure. We received anecdotal reports, but they're unsubstantiated and we don't have any photographic evidence or any other details that we can provide at this time," said Ross Sasamura, the Director of Honolulu's Facility Maintenance Department.
City officials also said the situation was exacerbated because a nearby pump station was closed for construction. Tuesday, they took responsibility for failing to have a crucial part installed in preparation for the storm.
"We did not have a flange installed and that was purely our fault. Between my department and the department of design and construction, we definitely should have improved our communication so that that flange was put on. We have two pump stations there -- Ala Moana pump station #1 can only pump about 60 million gallons. pump station #2 can do 100 million gallons. So you do the math. We really should have had pump station #2 ready to go when that storm was coming," said Kahikina. "We have a huge meeting tomorrow with the two department heads and the chiefs on how can we improve communication because this never should have happened."
Sample results from the Department of Health's water quality testing are expected Wednesday afternoon. In the meantime, several city facilities that were closed yesterday because of flooding have re-opened -- including the Honolulu Zoo and all city golf courses.