By BY JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER, Associated Press
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii officials said Friday that a security guard's decision this week to kick a group of stranded tourists out of an airport and into the stormy night was an embarrassment to the state.
Parts of Hawaii have endured almost a weeks-worth of relentless rain that has closed schools, blocked roads and overflowed sewers. When heavy rains canceled flights out of Kauai after midnight on Tuesday, about 20 passengers were stuck at the airport.
The small airport in Lihue normally closes overnight and the guard told the passengers — including a pregnant woman and a disabled man — that they needed to leave immediately.
"Everybody is flabbergasted that the security guard wouldn't let them stay at the airport," Department of Transportation spokesman Daniel Meisenzahl said. "He basically put them out on the curb in this terrible rainstorm."
The Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaiian Airlines have been trying to help state officials contact the kicked-out passengers so they could get personal apologies. The state's lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, managed to reach one couple by phone at their Littleton, Colo., home on Thursday.
"I said we're sorry and we wanted to express our aloha," Schatz said of the 15-minute phone call. "There's nothing that can be done to undo this mistake. I imagined myself, and my wife, being treated like this. I thought it was important to try to make it right."
Michael Young, who was on Kauai with his wife celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, described the apology from Schatz as "heart-felt."
Young, 71, told The Associated Press that the security guard had threatened to call police if the passengers didn't leave. Young and his wife were among about 10 people who couldn't get a hotel room. Other passengers managed to get rooms and rental cars, but many hotels were booked or inaccessible because of flooded roads.
Meanwhile, Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, was stuck at the Honolulu airport, trying to return home, when she heard there might be problems at the airport in Lihue. She asked her husband, an off-duty fire captain, to drive over.
That's when a five-day vacation full of mostly rainy days turned around for the Youngs.
"There was this kind, Hawaiian fireman. Bless his heart," Young said. "He had to be an angel. He commandeered a taxi that took us to a shelter."
At the crowded shelter, the soaking wet Youngs had to sleep on a concrete floor but were welcomed with the hospitality Hawaii is famous for, including a woman who brought them bananas from her yard.
"They were so gracious. They were such kind representatives of Hawaii," Young said. "Thank God for the shelter."
They headed back to the airport at 5 a.m. and caught a 35-minute flight to Honolulu and then to Denver.
The security guard works for Securitas, a company contracted by the state, and has been reassigned, Meisenzahl said.
Sanj Sappal, an area vice president for Securitas, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser an investigation into policies and procedures is under way.
The state and Securitas normally have a good relationship, Meisenzahl said, adding that the guard "wasn't following rules of common sense" and should have notified a supervisor and the state about the situation. He said the airport would have opened a room for the passengers and made restrooms available.
"The travel industry and tourism is our No. 1 industry," he said. "The airport is where everyone has their first and last impression of Hawaii."
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