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First Person: Mall Flood!

The author learns something about human nature—and herself—as Kahala Mall fills with floodwater.


Due to flood damage, Kahala Mall was sans carpets and sporting ventilation tubes (at left). After just a few days, everything looked completely back to normal. photo: Sheila Sarhangi

It was about the 40th day of rain, and on a Friday afternoon, the last day of March, another torrential downpour was hitting Honolulu.

The constant gloomy weather was getting me depressed—but I needed to get a birthday present. So, I arrived at Kahala mall, rolled down the bottoms of my wet jeans, and walked through the California Pizza Kitchen entrance. Strangely, strobe lights were flickering, while a robotic voice coming out of the red fire alarm box, was repeating something like, “This is an emergency, everyone exit.”

I looked around for an affirmation that this was, in fact, an emergency. But people continued to wander in and out of the shops—business as usual.

Then, the lights went on and off, and an orchestra of “oohs” and “aahs” followed. Probably some electrical problem, due to the heavy rain. I hadn’t eaten all day, so I headed toward Carl’s Jr. and noticed a group of people quickly walking away from the Kahala 8 Theatres wing. Some talked excitedly, while others seemed intent on reaching an exit. I turned the corner by T&C Surf, and there it was, about six inches of chocolate-brown water, flowing steadily across the floor, spreading into stores. A security guard stood at the edge of the water waving people away, shouting, “Everyone needs to exit the mall! Seriously, this is for your safety.”

My gut reaction? Still hungry. Still need a birthday present.

I shamelessly headed for the other side of the mall, hoping that I could find a place to eat before the water hit the other stores. I saw Pizza Hut’s buffet and, to my delight, the hostess seated me. Just as I was downing my third slice, the same security guard ran in saying, “Turn your ovens off now, the water is coming this way!”

This is when it hit me. A pool of water is coming my way, and the electricity was still on? Time to go.

I recently headed back to find out what actually happened. Ron Yoda, the mall’s general manager, explained that the Hunakai Street storm drains couldn’t handle all of the massive runoff at once. “It rushed into the emergency exit theater doors first, and almost simultaneously entered through the mall entrance, adjacent to the theaters, where the restrooms are. Once it got in there, it just went through the whole mall.”

The mall remained closed for four days, and Yoda estimates the lost monthly sales for the mall at 12 to 15 percent.

The Compleat Kitchen’s marketing manager, Kathy Rueter, arrived immediately after the flood. “I was so shocked at how the store looked. We were removing pieces of bark, small tree branches and leaves off the floor,” she says. “Of course, we didn’t have flood insurance because it’s a low risk area.” She faces at least $12,000 to $14,000 in damage to the floors and carpets alone.

Jeffrey Bednar, manager of Pictures Plus, estimates that in less than two minutes, the water in his store rose to about a foot deep. His store’s damage was primarily merchandise, an estimated loss of $30,000 to $50,000.

Macy’s had blockaded the water by quickly laying out bedding at its entrance, while Longs Drugs spread out cat litter to soak up the water.

Throughout the mess, there was camaraderie. “Our crew, the contractors, the merchants, everyone really helped each other out,” says Yoda. “That’s what makes me happy; just seeing a guy help his neighbor squeegee.”

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Honolulu Magazine March 2020
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