MAALAEA - Gov. Neil Abercrombie made a brief visit to Maalaea Harbor on Tuesday afternoon to assess damage at the state's small-boat harbor, one of the areas hardest hit by last week's earthquake-generated tsunami.
The stop was one of at least two on the Neighbor Islands on Tuesday. Earlier, he visited Kona on the Big Island, where tsunami surge water flooded the bottom floor of at least one hotel and damaged some homes.
At Maalaea Harbor, Abercrombie stayed less than an hour and spent most of his time chatting with a few tour boat employees as well as visitors. Abercrombie also met with Mayor Alan Arakawa before joining him at the Maalaea harbor.
Donalyn Dela Cruz, the governor's press secretary, said part of the aim of the trip was to show that it's business as usual in Hawaii, despite the islands being struck by a tsunami churned up by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Japan on Thursday night Hawaii time.
"We don't want any information to get back to the Mainland that we are out of business," Abercrombie told reporters at the harbor.
While damage assessments are ongoing, he said the state would seek federal disaster relief funds. So far, damage has been estimated at more than $300 million, a figure that is expected to climb.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie pledges his support to Mayor Alan Arakawa on Tuesday afternoon.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
People at Maalaea Harbor were happy to see the governor.
Junior Carvalho, the captain of the Strike Zone sport and bottom-fishing tour boat, called the visit "awesome."
"It's nice to see them down here," he said, after posing for photos with Abercrombie and Arakawa.
Strike Zone crew member Sam Thies said the visit "shows they are actually looking at everyone. We don't (usually) get the publicity" at Maalaea Harbor.
Carvalho said that during the tsunami his crew lost a dock box containing items such as an ice machine, fishing tackle and lines to secure the boat.
He estimated his losses were around $3,000. But the boat was saved from damage because Carvalho was able to take it out to sea to ride out the surges.
The Strike Zone fared better than other boats at the harbor. Some boats were sunk or damaged.
Arakawa said the county is working with the state to generate damage assessment reports needed to seek federal funds. He added that individuals and businesses should report tsunami-related damage to the Maui Civil Defense Agency.
The information can help determine if Maui County qualifies for any state or federal assistance as well as help with flood plain and tsunami inundation zone mapping.
Surveys will be accepted through Friday. Forms can be found online at www.mauicounty.gov, or call 270-7285.
The survey does not constitute an application for assistance, the county said. Those affected still need to file claims with their insurance companies.
Although the county may not see relief funds for several months, Arakawa said, repair work will be done sooner.
At Maalaea Harbor, he pointed out that work such as replacing and fixing electrical boxes that were ripped away near pier fingers would be among the projects needed to be done.
Arakawa said he did not have an estimate on the county's overall tsunami damages.
"I don't want to even guess at it," he said.
Arakawa added that the county responded quickly to the tsunami and "everyone tried to help," from those in the news media, to emergency shelter staff and Maui Electric Co.
Maui Visitors Bureau Executive Director Terryl Vencl said most of Maui's visitor accommodations had little or no tsunami damage to report.
"People should go ahead and travel to Maui with confidence. While there may be a couple of things still being worked on, we are pretty much back to normal," she said.
Vencl said that Thursday night into Friday morning when the tsunami hit, the visitors bureau was constantly checking on tourist resort areas in South and West Maui.
Although piers and other infrastructure have been damaged at Lahaina and Maalaea harbors, Vencl said that when she visited the harbors Sunday, she saw tours going on as usual.
As for Maui County's Japanese visitors, Vencl said they make up a smaller part of Maui County's visitor count.
As of last year, 63,000 Japanese visitors came to Maui County out of 2.2 million total visitors in the county or nearly 3 percent. Japanese visitors are a small, but still important market for Maui.
But, she added, the overall concern is for the people of Japan suffering the effects of the disaster.
"All of us are very concerned," she said. "All of our hearts go out to those in Japan. They are wonderful visitors to Maui."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.