Veterans group accepts new mission: Helping Kauai flood victims

Veterans group accepts new mission: Helping Kauai flood victims
Updated: May. 1, 2018 at 4:22 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HANALEI, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - As residents on Kauai work to rebuild and repair homes that were devastated by the historic flood last month, many are looking for help to clear their properties of mud, trees and other large debris.

Plenty of them are finding it – in the form of a veteran-led group of volunteers looking to lend a hand.

For the first time, Team Rubicon is conducting regional operations in Hawaii in the form of flood relief; the non-governmental organization 'unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams to communities affected by disaster.'

Members say they're in Hawaii to do the dirty work.

"We primarily perform muckouts, which include removing debris, clearing out homes, so that homeowners can save cost on damage removal and also facilitate repairing their homes," said Kaulana Kino, a Team Rubicon volunteer.

Because of the experience and skills these military vets and first responders possess, organizers say they're exceptional at helping communities recover from the worst disasters.

Residents say they are extremely grateful for the manpower.

"They called and said, 'We're here.' And I said great," said Nick Beck, a homeowner on Kauai. "It's inspiring. It really is. Gives you faith."

35 volunteers from Team Rubicon – both local and from the mainland – were on the ground in Hanalei on Tuesday, ripping out flooring and drywall and tearing down entire structures. They say the work helps communities heal.

"There's the physical aspect of the property, but there's also a psychological aspect to it," said Gabriel Valenzuela, a Team Rubicon volunteer. "When we show up and we leave and the homeowner sees the difference right there, that's good for the homeowner. It's good for the community."

Veteran Kaulana Kino – who is now a firefighter on Maui – says he spent two weeks in Houston with Team Rubicon after Hurricane Harvey. The flood damage he's seeing on Kauai is easily comparable, he says – if not worse.

"What we saw in Houston is that the water drained out," said Kino. "When we're dealing with valleys like Wainiha, Haena and Hanalei, these homes filled up with water, but left, in some cases, two-to-three feet of mud."

Because of the road closures, teams have only been able to access Wainiha on foot.

"One day on foot, we already generated over 40 work orders, and we're scratching the service," says Kino.

Volunteers say they'll be on-island as long as there's work to do and they have the resources to sustain their operations. For the veterans who make up 80 percent of Team Rubicon, the organization also gives them an opportunity to continue serving their country in a different way.

"When we come here and we do work, it's not just the homeowners," says Kino. "It's not just the community that benefits. It's really the veterans. It's really us."

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