A lover of literature and rare records, Royce Wilson has spent years building his small used book store in downtown Hilo.
He mostly avoided advertising, allowing Still Life Books to grow by word of mouth as it amassed a valuable collection of about 7,000 books and more than 3,000 vinyl records.
But now he faces the question of how to start over after finding most of the collection under several feet of water last week as Hurricane Lane dumped record rain on East Hawaii.
“I feel like overnight I lost my … identity as a local business person and as a lover of literature and good music,” said Wilson, 74.
“Now, I don’t have a place to go to work anymore.”
He tried to salvage what he could, though he estimates only 800 to 900 books were high enough to stay out of the flood waters. The record inventory was more fortunate; Wilson said he thinks he saved about 1,500, while losing 2,000.
“I picked the best of the best,” he said. “I had 15 bags full of books.”
Wilson thinks that will be enough for him to start again at a different, though smaller, location.
He said the store, located in a basement on Furneaux Lane, had a sump pump, but it became overwhelmed as water seeped in through the walls and floor.
Wilson described the scene as surreal.
“I was standing in 2 to 3 feet of water watching Beatles albums floating by my feet,” he recalled. “And there was an Albert Camus novel floating by at the same time.”
Whether East Hawaii business owners and residents get federal relief for recovering from the flooding remains to be seen.
Damage assessment teams fanned out across windward areas this week to gather data that could determine if Hawaii County qualifies for aid.
The county so far has not released any information related to damage assessments, but Janet Snyder, a spokeswoman with the Mayor’s Office, said crews focusing on tabulating damage to residents and businesses should wrap up today.
Residents with damage are urged to report it by calling 643-5555. That number also can be used to request cleanup assistance.
If the county qualifies, then residents can seek individual assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Small Business Administration, as they have for the Kilauea eruption in lower Puna.
The county also will seek federal aid for repairing public infrastructure.
Severe damage also was done to private roads in Puna.
“All the roads are damaged,” said Peter Jager, president of the Hawaiian Acres Community Association. “You’re driving on top of lava (rock). It’s horrible.”
Repairing the roads could be a challenge for the private subdivisions, since road fees are not mandatory, he said.
“We do what we can with what we have,” Jager said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Waipio Valley Road and Laupahoehoe Point Road were open to local traffic only. No other public roads were restricted or closed.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.