Leaky roofs drench travelers at Honolulu airport, could take years to fix

When heavy rain drenched Oahu this past Saturday, it created what appeared to a waterfall coming from the ceiling of Hawaii’s busiest airport.

A leaky canopy drenched luggage and tourists who tried to take cover outside the overseas terminal at Honolulu International Airport.

Inside the baggage claim, water gushed down from the ceiling and knocked out the panels.

Airport workers sent us video of the chaos, because they want to know why it’s happening and what’s being done to fix it. They say the problem has been going on for years. (Watch their full videos below.)

Hiro Caballes was working at the airport’s international arrivals area on Saturday, when that waterfall came down through the canopy.

“The Japanese say hazukashi, kind of shame, yeah, that’s the main thing,” Caballes said. “We’re a hospitality industry and we’re supposed to put our best face forward, and it’s kind of hard to do that when it’s dripping on their shoulder, and they’re trying to talk to you, and it’s dripping on their head, and you’re telling them, ‘I’m sorry, the roof’s leaking.'”

We showed the footage to Rick Fried, chairman of the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Board of Directors.

“Good grief, were their bags getting soaked?” he said.

Fried points out that it does not leave a good impression to the tourists. “A roof is supposed to keep it out and presumably, once it’s fixed, we’ll be okay, and of course that’s the first thing visitors see and the last thing when they leave,” Fried said.

We’re told the ongoing problem was made even worse by construction work.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara says the drainage system was inundated by the five inches of rain that fell within seven hours.

“It was exacerbated by the fact that we do have a construction project going up in the roof, and the filters placed around the drain to prevent any sort of any construction debris or waste from accidentally going down the drain were not removed prior to the rainfall,” he said.

Sakahara says crews will make sure from now on to remove those filters before it rains, but he admits that leaky roofs have been a constant problem because the pipes and drainage system are nearly 50 years old.

The state says there is a plan already in the works to replace the aging pipes at the airport. The problem is work won’t start until next year.

With a lot of rainy weather expected before that happens, we asked Sakahara, what’s the best solution?

“We’ll continue to go and make the repairs as needed,” he replied. “Again, it’s difficult to tell exactly what pipe right now may be damaged until, of course, the rain presents itself.”

It seems inevitable that more leaks will happen when it rains, but Sakahara says it should not be as bad as what happened on Saturday.

Sakahara says the project will likely take a couple of years to finish and will cost several million dollars.

As for why it wasn’t done sooner, Sakahara says the DOT had to get the funding first.

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