In push for highrise sprinklers, mayor invokes imagery of 9/11

Published: Sep. 13, 2017 at 9:45 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 14, 2017 at 1:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The mayor used strong words Thursday to push his aim of retrofitting older Honolulu highrises with sprinklers, saying residents shouldn't have to choose between jumping from an apartment building or burning to death.

"I was not here in Honolulu for 9/11, but I saw the news and it showed people jumping out of the towers," he said, at a news conference at the Marco Polo apartments, the scene of a massive apartment blaze in July.

"People were jumping because they didn't want to burn to death. They chose falling 100 stories to being burned alive. I do not want any of our citizens on this island to be faced with that choice."

The mayor has proposed a bill that would require all residential highrises to install sprinkler systems, but critics say it would be expensive and could deter affordable housing efforts.

Current law only requires highrises built after 1975 to be equipped with sprinkler systems.

The Marco Polo doesn't have sprinklers. The seven-alarm blaze at the landmark left three people dead and damaged scores of apartments. A cause has not yet been determined.

The mayor said Thursday that about 360 highrises on Oahu — or some 38,000 residential units — do not have sprinkler systems.

"I'm asking people instead of opposing and saying no, I'm saying let's come together. It doesn't have to be five or 10 or even 15 years, but to begin the process of retrofitting all of these towers," he said.

Also at the news conference, the mayor discussed the issuance of disaster declarations for the Marco Polo blaze. The action allows low-interest federal disaster loans to be made available to Marco Polo owners and tenants in need.

Federal officials opened an outreach center at the Marco Polo.

Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.

Interest rates can be as low as 3.3 percent for businesses, 2.5 percent for private nonprofit organizations, and 1.75 percent for homeowners and renters with terms up to 30 years.

Loan amounts and terms are set by SBA and are based on each applicant's financial condition.

Applicants may also apply online by clicking here.

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