Fever, dizzy spells and headaches all came to a halt when McKenzie Probert and her son switched to bottled water and moved into the Hilton Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki.

Probert’s home on the Aliamanu Military Reservation is one of hundreds affected by a contaminated water crisis that has lasted more than a week. The military has been unable to say when the drinking water will be safe again after petroleum was discovered at a Navy well not far from an underground jet fuel storage facility.

Hawaii hotels provided space last year for people who caught Covid-19 and were unable to safely isolate at home. Now, the hotels are providing respite and clean water after the military agreed to foot the bill for eligible families as more than 92,000 people have been impacted.

While the military did not disclose the number of families currently living in hotels, the Hawaii Hotel Alliance made 1,825 rooms available for people affected by the contaminated water, and according to HHA president Jerry Gibson, rooms are still available.

The hotels that are serving impacted military families include the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the Hilton Waikiki, five Outrigger hotels, The Hyatt Waikiki, Kyoya Hotels and the Double Tree Waikiki.

Center, Outrigger Beach Hotel.
Outrigger hotels are serving displaced military families this week. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

“There is a uniformed service member at each of these properties to assist with questions related to the relocation,” said Monica Salter, spokeswoman for the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts. “Our hope is that this situation will be resolved soon, but we will do everything we can to keep them comfortable while staying with Outrigger.”

Hawaii hotels have had to deal with fluctuating guest counts since the pandemic devastated the economy last year. In April of 2020, hotel occupancy plummeted, staying below 50% for over a year, according to data from the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Occupancy shot up over the summer as tourists flocked to the islands before falling again when the delta surge began, coinciding with a usual fall slowdown. In October, hotels on Oahu averaged a 49% occupancy rate — a 27% increase from 2020 and 34% decrease from 2019.

Now hotels are preserving a “symbiotic relationship” with impacted families during a slower time in the season, Gibson said.

While Gibson said hotel occupancy will pick up again in a few weeks, he’s also optimistic that participating hotels can help people remain safe.

“Those that need help, we’re going to try to help as much as we possibly can,” he said. “If they need to stay over longer, we’re just going to have to figure it out.”

The Navy didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday. Army spokesman Michael Donnelly said for security purposes, the Army isn’t revealing the exact number of families that are moving into hotels.

“Each of the affected residents of AMR and Red Hill have been offered the opportunity to displace to a hotel during the ongoing water issue,” he said.  “Those who choose this option will be provided compensation for out of pocket meal expenses. A significant percentage of the affected community have elected to take up this offer.”

During a town hall on Saturday, Rear Adm. Timothy Kott, the commander of Navy Region Hawaii, admitted the Navy has continuously “missed the mark” to provide housing for the families at risk in the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam area, but he said that military officials are now trying to respond quickly.

Affected active duty service members and their authorized dependents will be approved for Temporary Lodging and Allowance, Kott said. TLA includes lodging and a per diem that’s set according to family size. For those unable to find their own lodging or wait for reimbursement, the government will provide contracted housing.

Even though access to clean water is a huge help for affected families, moving into hotel rooms is a struggle for some. At 19 weeks of pregnancy, Probert said her baby girl is currently at high risk while her 3-year-old son was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection one week before Thanksgiving.

“It’s been emotionally a nightmare,” said Probert, who worries that the hotel room isn’t childproofed. “My 3 year old can open every door — the door to the balcony, to the hotel room and he can unlock everything.”

She also said it’s been challenging living with a mini-fridge and no kitchen, which makes it difficult to prepare affordable meals.

Before they moved to the hotel, Probert spent hours decorating their house for Christmas, making sure it was decked out, cozy and festive. Now, she doesn’t know whether they’ll be able to go back.

“When will this end? Is there going to be an end?” she asked. “I just don’t have answers.”

An Important Note

If you consider nonprofit, independent news to be an essential service that helps keep our community informed, please include Civil Beat among your year-end contributions.

And for those who can, consider supporting us with a monthly gift, which helps keep our content free for those who need it most.

This year, we are making it our goal to raise $225,000 in reader support by December 31, to support our news coverage statewide and throughout the Pacific. Are you ready to help us continue this work?

About the Author