Saving Hau'ula

"They said that we were invisible to them—but I am not going to just let my community wash away."

A Hawiian town's decade long struggle for a life saving shelter.

Gone With the Next Storm

For the past decade the residents of Hau’ula, a town of 4,018 on O’ahu’s north shore, have survived rain bomb storms and seen sea levels encroach on their homes. In 2020 hurricane Douglas, a category 4 hurricane, was the closest passing Pacific hurricane to the island on record. The hurricane missed Hau’ula by only 20 miles. But it did not leave them untouched: The hurricane’s storm surge was so powerful that a nearby forest was largely destroyed when one tree fell into the ocean and pulled in many more trees because of the trees’ interconnected root system. 

The residents of Hau'ula fear they're next.

Please note that this is a first draft. Some facts and details are missing or incomplete.

Each day Dottie Kelly-Paddock, the president of the Hau’ula Community Association (HCA) wakes up thinking that they might not survive the next storm. Hau’ula is isolated. There is only way in and out the town on Kamehameha Highway (Kam Highway). She’s been told by state engineers that if there was a tsunami or major hurricane the road could be inaccessible for as many as 30 days, leaving her community completely cut off. And because Hau’ula lacks even the most basic of storm shelters, they would have nowhere to go as they waited for rescue teams to reach them. Without a shelter many would die of preventable disease and hunger. Death from preventable disease and starvation is not something she thought she’d have to think about in the world’s richest nation. 

City officials have come to regard Kelly-Paddock with hostility. She told me that after one resilience meeting a city official bluntly told her, “Dottie, did you know that Hau’ula is invisible to the City and County of Honolulu?”  She paused, as if she was just punched in the stomach. “That hit me like a freight train.” Her eyes narrowed, her lips quivered, and her voice began to crack. “People live here, and people struggle here. They love their children. They want their children to do better. It's a hard existence for Hawaiian families in Hau’ula….and it seems like we are invisible.” She was about to cry, but then stiffened. Her hurt turned to anger and defiance. “I made a promise to myself and my community that day—that we weren't going to be invisible anymore.”

Kelly-Paddock is not one to back down easily and she’s continued to attend meetings in Honolulu. (O‘ahu is zoned as both the city and county of Honolulu. Because of this designation, Hau’ula isn’t even recognized as a town but merely a poor neighborhood of Honolulu, leaving them with little formal representation.) After one of the meetings a person sympathetic to her struggle mentioned that she might want to try reaching out to one more person: Illya Azaroff, a New York based architect who specializes in resilient design. After having her calls go to voicemail and her e-mails unanswered after she wrote other architects, she thought that perhaps a more personal approach would be better and she wrote a handwritten letter. A month passed and she didn’t hear anything. Then, one day as she was driving home after dropping her son off at school, she received a call from a 718 number. When she heard Azaroff introduce himself she broke into tears and told him to hold on: overwhelmed with emotion she feared crashing into an oncoming car and pulled off to the side of the road.  

It’s undeniable that Hau’ula needs a shelter. So then why does a town like Hau’ula have to fight tooth and nail for a structure that is of such obvious benefit to all involved? It comes down to how the United States considers resilience. In this country resilience is a reactive thing—it comes into being only after an event.

 

Azaroff says, “We've seen it done better in so many places, even those that are economically developing. How embarrassing is that? Quite frankly, Bangladesh knocks it out of the park. Every few miles, they have a tsunami shelter that will take care of the people and their animals, livestock everything. But we can't do it for places across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama. You name it. We just don't do it.”   

The reason that even a poor country like Bangladesh does it better than the United States is that their government goes into communities, accesses needs and then builds accordingly. The United States confuses resilience with survival. In its truest form, resilience takes a lot of effort and planning. As we grapple with how to respond to climate change, it’s crucial to understand that resilience is something that’s invested in over time, it’s something that is put into the system rather than merely powering through a bad situation. 

Eroding Before Our Eyes

A resilience hub explained.

The Intersection of Ancient Knowledge & Current Science

​“In our world we don't we don’t consider fixing something. If something is not working our immediate reaction is how do we heal it? To cure something is to remove all the evidence of the causes of a disease. So, you can remove all the causes and when the causes have been removed, ideally you are considered to be cured. But not necessarily healed. Healing means to make whole again. Sometimes we are so focused on curing that we don't realize that once you're cured, you're only halfway there.”

-Dr. Papali’i ‘Tusi’ Avegalio, senior heir of the Malietoa Talavou (warrior king) line of Samoa and advisor the Hau’ula Resilience Hub project. 

The Future is Uncertain

The community is beginning to see some success. They've received over $300,000 and an environmental assessment is next, the last step before the actual structure can be built at a cost of $30M. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the community will see their vision prevail. After each step of the process other bidders are encouraged to join in the process. With a pot of $30 million in play, developer vultures who have no connection to the community are everywhere and could end up taking over the project with diminished attention to the wishes of the community. 

 

After all the sweat and effort, she and her community have put into the project, Huddy is hopeful that vision will prevail. “We may be poor in money and lack materialistic things, but we are rich in our culture. That's why we’re still hanging on and do what we do. We fight for the next generation so that they don't forget the culture and their roots. When I paddle on the ocean and I look back at the shoreline, I always think about when our ancestors came here. I know they were in love with this place, and they were never gonna leave. They saw the future of us always being here.” 

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