Officials aim to prevent landslides in Hawaii

The death toll from the Washington state landslide continues to grow – on Monday it grew to 24.

There are 22 people are listed as missingafter a rain-saturated hillside along the Stillagumish River gave way, sending a wall of mud and rocs into the town of Oso on March 22.

KHON2 wondered if something like that could happen in Hawaii.

KHON2 turned to University of Hawaii geologist Steve Martel, and he says while the topography and soil conditions need to be taken into consideration – all you need is one trigger, and lots of it, to cause a landslide.

Martel referenced the Makaha Valley disaster of 1996 as an example.

The Valley is described as lush and peaceful, and most days it is.

But that was not the case one early morning in November of 1996, when boulders, water and mud cascaded down the mountain overlooking the Makaha Valley Towers.

No one was hurt then, but it was enough to keep residents on edge even to this day.

Resident Donald Donato is even more spooked since he heard accounts of the Washington State mudslide.

“I see all the mountains and the rain happening now – I get kinda scared,” said Donato, who lives on the sixth floor of the Towers.

Weather forecasters would later say that 21 inches of rain fell on the Waianae Coast in the first 15 days of November 1996, an area that normally sees two inches of annual rainfall.

University of Hawaii Geologist Steve Martel says landslides like the one that happened in Makaha have one big trigger – rain, and lots of it.

“The rainfall can be a real trigger for a lot of these,” said Martel. “And that is one of the things that makes it difficult because we can’t predict the weather with any great accuracy.”

Martel went on to say that “many of them operate sporadically and when the are in effect in a manner or a place or pace that doesn’t affect people commonly there’s not a lot of concern.”

The Makaha landslide – and a couple of flooding events since have attracted the attention of officials – a study has been initiated and the first community meeting was held last week in Waianae – all in the effort to prevent another disaster in the region.

“We’re going to put all that data together,” said State Representative Jo Jordan, whose constituents include Makaha and Waianae. “We’ll put it all together in draft form, possibly by July.”

That’s welcome news for people in the Valley. “The mountain is dissolving, so they do slide here,” said Tommy Sowell. “We just have to make sure they don’t slide on the houses.”

Even if a draft is in place by July, it will be another nine months before a plan is finalized that would feature short, medium, and long-term solutions.

Any solution would cost money which is not readily available at this time.

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