A massive sewage spill has shut down miles of beaches along Waikīkī and Ala Moana. Flooding from heavy rains caused more than 500,000 gallons of sewage to overflow from manholes near Ala Moana Center. HPR’s Molly Solomon was there and has this report.
Half a million gallons of wastewater spilled onto Honolulu streets and quickly flowed into public parks and waterways. That prompted city officials to shut down Ala Moana Beach Park and close shorelines along Waikīkī.
"What we have decided to do is shut down the beaches, from the Kapahulu groin all the way to Point Panic," said Lori Kahikina, director of the city’s Department of Environmental Services. She says the spill was partially caused by storm water entering the wastewater system, causing raw sewage to surge onto Atkinson Street near Ala Moana.
A second wastewater pump in the area was under repair and was only able to be activated after most of the damage was already done. Kahikina says all of this was too much for the city’s sewage system to handle. "What you have behind me is a major sewage back up of our Ala Moana gravity line," said Kahikina. "With the heavy rains, it overwhelmed our system."
For now, officials urge the public to stay out of the water. "This can be dangerous, there is risk of infection," said Shane Enright, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Emergency Services. "Please stay out of the water at least for the next couple of days, until we get the okay to go in. Don't take the risk because we don't know what is in the water. You could get a serious infection, get really sick, or even worse."
Staying out of the water is disappointing for the millions of tourists that flock to Waikīkī beach every year, including Ben and Mandy, a couple visiting O‘ahu from Sydney, Australia. "It's a bummer that we can't go swimming," said Ben, who says they decided to go shopping instead. "We're only here for a day so we were hoping to go for a swim, but it's not really that clean," said Mandy. "It's really murky, almost like a dark charcoal color. [The water's] not really appealing."
The city has collected samples of the water and expects to see results on bacteria levels in the next 24 hours. Until then, popular beaches like Waikīkī and Ala Moana will remain closed.
The last time the city was forced to close Waikiki beach was in 2006, when a ruptured pipe dumped 48 million gallons of raw sewage into the Ala Wai Canal.