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Aloha for Japan Revealed Hawaii’s Heart

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Photo: Aloha Initiative

E Komo Mai

Hawaii residents not only opened their hearts and wallets; many opened their homes to victims of the Japanese disaster, too.

The all-volunteer Aloha Initiative mobilized families on Oahu and Maui to host survivors from the hardest-hit regions for three to 11 weeks. Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa, honorary chair of the initiative, says the program gave victims “a place to heal, a place to rest.”

Regan’s family was among 150 who created homespun relief for more than 100 tsunami victims.

The lead organizer was Keith Regan, who is managing director of Maui County. He says he and his wife and two friends from California, Keith and Lynn Powers, started thinking of different ways to reach out to people affected by the tragedy.

“Everyone was holding fundraisers and sending money, and we wanted to do something with a human touch,” he says.

About two weeks after coming up with the idea for the Aloha Initiative, Regan got a call and a pledge of support from then-First Hawaiian Bank CEO Don Horner and the bank’s foundation.

“With that kind of support, we said, ‘We can do this. We can give people a chance to escape for a while,’ ” Regan says. In April, Regan traveled to Japan to meet with coordinators who would select needy families from the earthquake and tsunami-ravaged region. The first home-stay guests from Fukushima arrived on the Fourth of July.

Lt Gov. Brian Schatz watched disaster-weary families get off the plane to a warm welcome. “It was just so touching,” he says. “We were all crying.”

“They looked shocked and depressed,” Regan adds. “You could see on their faces they really weren’t sure what they were getting into. But within a couple of weeks they were smiling and laughing and enjoying themselves. They were renewed.”

Supporting the program with monetary and in-kind support were the First Hawaiian Bank Foundation, Mana Foods, Relativity Media, Hawaiian Airlines, Japan Airlines, hotels and other organizations.

In fact, Hawaiian Airlines says its overall donations last year to Japanese relief topped $262,000 in cash and more than $15,000 in free and reduced-rate air travel. Japan Airlines says its contributions totaled between $200,000 and $400,000, and it is commited to flying 200 more survivors to Hawaii this year.

Debris from the Japanese earthquake and tusnami last
March was recovered by a scientific expedition northwest
of Midway in December.
Photo: Tsunami Debris Project, CBI

Tsunami Debris Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Someone may have warned you that tons of Japanese tsunami debris are headed toward Hawaii. The advice from University of Hawaii ocean scientists: Look on the light side.

Principal investigator Nikolai Maximenko and scientific computer programmer Jan Hafner of the International Pacific Research Center in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at UH-Manoa are continually updating computer models of ocean currents.

While those currents are becoming more and more predictable, the movement of tsunami debris is not, because objects of different shapes and buoyancy are affected differently by winds. “There are so many unknowns, depending on the shape of the objects,” Hafner says.

Last October, The Associated Press reported that as much as 20 million tons of floating tsunami debris could arrive on Hawaii’s shores by early 2013.

But UH scientists tell Hawaii Business that 20 million tons was an estimate of all the oceanborne debris from Fukushima. Not all of that is still afloat. Much of the heavy debris has sunk or will sink and other bits will wash up somewhere else, Hafner says. “Only a fraction of that amount will reach any beach on any shore.”

Back in October, AP reported that a Russian ship had observed a massive field of household appliances and other tsunami junk floating in the Pacific between Japan and Midway Atoll, at the far reaches of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The sighting confirmed the computer models of UH oceanographers, which had predicted tsunami debris would flow to that part of the Pacific.

Debris that could be tsunami-related reached the shores of Washington State in December, Hafner says, but models suggest that junk from Fukushima is not likely to reach Hawaii until December 2012 or early next year, though some light, wind-driven debris could reach here sooner.

If the main “cloud” of debris stays on course at 40 degrees north of Hawaii, its southern flank could touch Hawaii, he says. “If we see some lighter stuff regularly, it could mean some heavier stuff is behind. Some of it could pose a hazard to small boats.”

 
 

Economic Fallout in Hawaii

The economic impact on Hawaii from Japan’s worst natural disaster was not as far-reaching as initially anticipated.

Within hours of the catastrophe, Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii saw a group cancellation of 2,000 guests. But hotels coaxed their travel partners to keep bookings in place and, within weeks, there were signs that the impact on Hawaii tourism would not be as severe or as long-lasting as might be expected, considering the magnitude of the disaster.

“This came at a tough time, on top of a global recession,” says Hawaii Tourism Authority CEO Mike McCartney. “Our initial expectation was the number of Japanese visitors would be down by 45 percent for the year. In the end we were down about 5 percent and visitor expenditure from Japan was actually up by 8.1 percent.”

“We’re close to a record year and we feel blessed,” McCartney says.

He says the multiple crises in Japan proved to be a defining moment for tourism planners. The HTA quickly agreed on nine ways to respond – a combination of immediate, short-term and long-term actions, including pumping an additional $3 million into Hawaii’s global marketing to attract tourists from other parts of Asia, and from Australia and Canada.

Those efforts paid off with a slew of new flights from Down Under and North America, and, toward the end of the year, new service to and from Japan by Hawaiian and Delta airlines, McCartney says. Working with Japanese tour organizers, Hawaii tourism officials found ways to bring Japanese factory workers and farmers here in what became the new reality of altered work schedules and charter flights to replace reductions in scheduled services.

“This lit a fire under us and, in the end, we realized we are more global than even we thought we were.”

New car sales in 2011 were up 4.4 percent in Hawaii over 2010, but the Japanese crisis did hinder sales of a few popular Japanese car models because some automaking factories and parts suppliers had to shut down. Servco, Hawaii’s leading Toyota dealer group, says its  hybrid vehicles took the biggest hit, says Rick Ching, president of Servco Automotive. “We felt the effect of that well into the fourth quarter of last year. With the start of the new year, though, we are back to pre-tragedy inventory levels for all of our vehicles.”

Some charities also took a hit. In the weakened economy, the massive outpouring of donations for Japan dampened other charitable giving. “The funding pattern shifted as a result of the giving program for Japan,” says Lisa Murayama, president and CEO of Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations.

She adds that a second event in 2011 also diverted money that businesses might have donated to local charities. “The year began with Japan relief and ended with corporate spending on APEC,” she says.

 

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