HONOLULU (Reuters) - Public health officials warned beachgoers to stay out of the water along Honolulu’s famed Waikiki Beach at least through Wednesday after a 500,000-gallon sewage spill triggered by heavy rain sent wastewater streaming over the tourist spot.
The beachfront was closed to the public due to risk of infection after brown, fetid water spewed over the white-sand stretch of shore following a downpour that dumped 4 inches of rain in Honolulu between Sunday night and Monday morning.
The waste overflowed from manholes and poured into storm drains leading to the ocean. City officials said on Tuesday the spill was caused by a pumping station having been shut down for maintenance when the showers hit.
“All I can do is apologize to the public,” Lori Kahikina, director of environmental services for the city and county of Honolulu, said at a news conference. “This is unheard of. It’s unprecedented.”
The spill and beach closure forced postponement of events at the Duke’s Oceanfest, an annual water sports tournament honoring legendary Hawaiian sportsman Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. More than 2,700 athletes compete in 22 events over nine days.
“The safety of our swimmers is paramount,” festival chairman Jim Fulton said. “We don’t want to put our participants at risk.”
The Hawaii Department of Health issued a brown water advisory across the island of Oahu, which includes Honolulu, and collected water samples for analysis, Honolulu officials said.
The closure was to remain in effect at least through Wednesday afternoon, city spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke told reporters.
“We’re extremely sorry for the inconvenience caused by the wastewater spill,” he said. “We know people plan for a trip to Hawaii for months.”
Shayne Enright, spokeswoman for the Honolulu Emergency Services Department, said the contaminated water at Waikiki Beach posed a risk to anyone who entered it.
“You could get a serious infection, get extremely sick or even worse,” she said.
A television station showed video of a lifeguard using a loudspeaker to warn beachgoers to stay out of the sea. But some continued to swim and wade in the water despite warnings.
“That’s a lot of water there, I don’t think a little particle is going to hurt me,” Adam Rago, a visitor from California, told Hawaii News Now.
Heavy rains that caused the sewage spill were not directly linked to tropical depression Kilo, which has veered away from Hawaii and was hundreds of miles west of the island chain, said National Weather Service meteorologist John Bravender.
Writing and additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis from Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham