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Originally published March 16, 2011 at 8:57 AM | Page modified March 16, 2011 at 11:34 AM

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Hawaii governor says islands 'back in business' after tsunami

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie declared the islands "back in business" Tuesday after finding hotels open, piers operational and tourists happy...

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii — Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie declared the islands "back in business" Tuesday after finding hotels open, piers operational and tourists happy during a tour of the Big Island and Maui following last week's tsunami.

State divers reported during Abercrombie's trip that a Big Island dock was structurally sound enough to have a 2,000-passenger cruise ship, the Pride of America, return next week after it canceled this week's stop in the west coast town of Kailua-Kona.

Abercrombie also saw that hotels were hosting plenty of tourists despite sand and rocks on the ground of the first floor of the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel, which was flooded when tsunami waves swept in.

"We can come back quick," Abercrombie said during his daylong island hops aboard a C-26 aircraft. "We're back in business. I don't want information getting out to the mainland that we're not open for business or that Hawaii is shut off."

At the historic Hulihee Palace in Kailua-Kona, workers were airing out old books, maps, poi pounding boards and spears that were drenched by 4 feet of water in the basement.

The former summer vacation home for Hawaiian royalty is now a museum showcasing Victorian artifacts from the era of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani.

Later in the day on Maui, the only visible damage at Maalaea Harbor was a destroyed electrical box.

Abercrombie's administration has said Hawaii suffered damage totaling tens of millions of dollars. The rough estimate combined damage to homes, businesses, hotels, boats, piers and government infrastructure.

He waved to vacationers, took a picture with fishers who caught a marlin off Maui and praised volunteers for cleaning debris off Kealakekua Bay, where the tsunami lifted a three-story house off its foundation. The house's roof was dumped on shore, with the rest of it still underwater.

"There was a lot of damage, but you can see the volunteerism of the communities out there in the rural areas, they took charge," said Maj. Gen. Darryll Wong, who leads the state Department of Defense.

The damage was sufficiently severe to trigger aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and loans from the Small Business Administration, Abercrombie said.

The Democratic governor said when he arrived in Kailua-Kona that the damage wasn't as bad as he expected it to be.

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"We've got a lot of bumps and bruises, but resilience has been a real key," said Debbie Baker, executive director for the Kailua Villain Business Improvement District, as she met with the governor.

Some businesses in the Kailua-Kona area, including a swimwear shop and a Kona coffee shop, were boarded up because of flooding damage. But tourists were still enjoying drinks and breakfast at a bar on the second floor of the building.

No one in Hawaii was reported killed or injured after tsunami waves arrived early Friday morning.

The most difficult pending repairs appear to be clearing trash from coral reef at Kealakekua Bay and fixing piers at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu, where an estimated 200 boats were damaged when their floating docks broke loose.

"We need help. The people have done what they can," said Jean Love, a resident near Kealakekua Bay.

Despite the remaining wreckage, damaged areas are starting to look like they did before the tsunami now that most of the surface debris has been cleared.

"The fact that these places are still open for business, that's the most important thing," said William Aila, chairman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, after a dolphin and whale-watching boat returned to Maalaea Harbor on Maui.

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