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Spilled Sewage Forces Closure Of Hawaii's Famed Waikiki Beach

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Looks like some people picked the wrong week to vacation in Hawaii. Waikiki Beach is closed at the height of the tourist season. This is because of a massive sewage spill off the south shore of the island of Oahu. This spill has contaminated miles of beach. Molly Solomon from Hawaii Public Radio reports.

MOLLY SOLOMON, BYLINE: Every year, millions of tourists flock to the clear blue waters of Waikiki. But a 500,000-gallon sewage spill has put visitors' beach plans on hold. That's disappointing news for Ben and Mandy White, a couple visiting Oahu from Sydney, Australia.

BEN WHITE: We didn't realize that we couldn't go into the water.

MANDY WHITE: It's really murky. It's almost like a dark charcoal color. It's not really appealing.

SOLOMON: Warning signs posted by lifeguards line the 4-mile stretch of beach. Honolulu city officials say heavy rains from a storm earlier this week flooded the wastewater system, forcing more than half a million gallons of sewage to spew from manholes. The brown water cascaded into public parks and storm drains leading into the ocean. Environmental Services director Lori Kahikina stood in front of city crews pumping wastewater from the road.

LORI KAHIKINA: All I can do is apologize to the public. This is unheard of.

SOLOMON: City officials are collecting samples of the water and sending it off for testing. Honolulu city's Department of Emergency Services spokeswoman, Shayne Enright, says it could be a couple of days before the ocean is safe for people to enter.

SHAYNE ENRIGHT: Don't take the risk. We don't know right now what is in the water. You could get a serious infection, get extremely sick, or even worse.

SOLOMON: But by the time the beaches reopen, it'll be too late for many tourists, like Ben and Mandy White.

B. WHITE: It's a bit of a bummer that we can't really go swimming, so...

M. WHITE: And we're only here for the day, so we were hoping to go for a swim right now. But obviously, you know, it's not really that clean.

SOLOMON: And with more wet weather on the way, the city is hoping to patch up the problem before the next storm arrives. For NPR News, I'm Molly Solomon in Honolulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.