Flooding paralyzes Windward O'ahu
|Weather photo gallery|
|||Rain-making Kona systems behind persistent downpours|
|||Few are covered for flood damage|
|||Help on the way for flood victims|
Torrential rains flooded scores of homes, washed out roads and shut down traffic from Waiahole to Kahuku on Windward O'ahu yesterday, bringing with it flash flood warnings that continued late into the night.
"This is probably the largest flooding event we've had since the 1996 flood in the Makaha area," said John Cummings, plans and operations officer for O'ahu Civil Defense. That flood prompted a declaration of a federal disaster area in Leeward O'ahu, Cummings said, allowing small farmers in the region to receive disaster loans.
Despite the mud, muck, landslides and closed schools, no serious injuries or severe damage were reported. Similar weather patterns were found on Maui and Kaua'i. Kaupo, on the remote southeastern Maui coast, was drenched with nearly 10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period.
And on O'ahu, the automated rain gauge at Punalu'u recorded more than a foot and a half of rain in the 48 hours ending at 5 p.m. yesterday, the National Weather Service said.
A flash warning expired at 10 last night but a flash flood watch and small-stream flood advisory remained in effect.
Several families were displaced from their homes, and three emergency shelters were set up.
"It's been frantic for the people who live out in the (Windward) area and we're just trying to get to everybody to see they are safe," Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Kenison Tejada said. "We will address the water problems when the rain stops, if it is possible."
"We do know there has been widespread property damage," city Managing Director Wayne Hashiro said in a written statement. "A full assessment of the damage will begin at first light tomorrow."
While Honolulu has been spared most of the rain the past few days, the Windward side has taken the brunt of soggy weather.
A river of murky pink floodwater roiled past the houses on Green Valley Road toward Kamehameha Highway in Punalu'u yesterday afternoon, pooling in lawns, spouting waterfalls from drainage pipes and executing an abrupt about-face as it collided with the ocean waves beyond Punalu'u Beach Park.
A block southeast of Green Valley Road the floodwaters had become lakes, surrounding homes on Kamehameha and slipping over the thresholds.
"It got 6 inches deep in the house," said Cecilia Akim of 53-314 Kamehameha Highway. "The fire department came in and carried me out."
Akim, 63, is staying with family members. She said she has no insurance, but has children and grandchildren who will help her to clean up when the waters go down. She has lived in the house in Punalu'u for 20 years, and it has flooded four or five times.
A half-mile southeast of Akim's house, city workers blocked the road into Ka'a'awa. A police officer shook his head when asked if foot traffic was advisable. "There are rocks falling onto the street," he said.
Ka'a'awa homes were knee-deep in the murky soup, and the flooded areas extended northwest, too, pooling onto lanes of the highway in Hau'ula and La'ie, turning parking lots into fish ponds and adding additional water features to the golf course at Turtle Bay.
Even the Polynesian Culture Center in La'ie was forced to close, mostly because the roads were shut down, said Raymond Magalei, director of marketing for the center.
On Green Valley Road, closer to Kamehameha Highway, flotsam marked the passage of ocean water that had flowed mauka across the highway after the rainwater hit the waves and backed up. Driveways were ankle deep in floodwater, and the contents of garages had gone floating. Bits of debris marked where the water had risen above the undercarriage of parked cars. The floor of at least one vehicle held 2 inches of water yesterday afternoon.
Elsewhere, three homes had to be evacuated in the Hau'ula area and a dozen civil defense volunteers were deployed to offer assistance, Cummings said.
The rain was so heavy it forced the closure of Ka'a'awa, Hau'ula, La'ie and Kahuku elementary schools and Kahuku High & Intermediate School. All will remain closed today.
By midday, three emergency shelters were set up for flood and rain victims on the Windward side, one at the Hau'ula Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 54-208 Hau'ula Homestead Road, one in the Kane'ohe/Kailua area and one in Kahuku. By 9 last night only the Hau'ula shelter remained open, but no one had sought shelter there, Cummings said.
The Red Cross and city workers will deploy today to assess the damage.
The rains also caused a 200-yard long landslide near Kualoa Ranch that sent workers wading through 6 inches of water for about a half-mile before they could start removing debris.
In the area surrounding Waikane Stream and Waikane Store, roads were closed because the water level in the stream rose and caused flooding. Waihe'e Road all the way to Punalu'u was closed. The stretch of Kamehameha Highway from Kahalu'u to Kahuku was littered with branches, mud, rocks and fallen trees.
On Maui, Pi'ilani Highway at Kaupo was washed out yesterday and was expected to reopen today, county officials said.
On Kaua'i, treated wastewater mixed with runoff flowed into the ocean from the Kikiaola Ditch. Users of the Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor were warned to avoid contact with water in the area.
Kaua'i police also reported ponding on roads islandwide, minor rock and mudslides onto roads and minor flooding in various areas. State parks officials stopped issuing camping permits islandwide on Kaua'i.
"We advise the public to avoid trails or streams during the stormy conditions due to dangers from flash flood," said Peter Young, Department of Land and Natural Resources chairman. "People should also avoid crossing high, swift flowing water on roadways."
Two feet of water flooded the La'ie home of Kela Miller yesterday morning, and dozens of people rallied to help remove the water from the house and clean it. Hawaii Reserves Inc., where she works, provided the water pumps and sandbags.
The home sits in a low-lying area where water from Kamehameha Highway and neighboring properties drain on to her lot. Accustomed to flooding, Miller said sandbags usually prevent problems but this time she didn't have enough sandbags to hold back the constant rainfall.
Four feet of water collected in the backyard before it poured through a bathroom window and rushed through the two-bedroom home around 8 a.m., she said.
Born and raised in La'ie, Miller said she's seen worse.
"I've seen all the floods that we had in La'ie and this is nothing compared to the devastation we had before when we had cesspool (water in the homes)," she said.
On Green Valley Road, some residents were making the best of it. Abraham Freebairn, 25, created a water slide out of leftover roofing material. "Then we put soap on it," said 13-year-old neighbor Sami Wheeler.
Advertiser Neighbor Island editor Christie Wilson and staff writer Jan TenBruggencate contributed to this report.