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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 4, 2006

'Everything just flooded' echoes among residents of ruined homes

 •  Flood cleanup begins

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tiare Lelepali pumped water from a home in Ka'a'awa yesterday after a break from the heavy rains.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Ashley Lelepali hunts for her missing koi that escaped when the pond in front of her Ka'a'awa home overflowed following the heavy rains. There has been no sign of her missing catfish.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Residents in many homes in Ka'a'awa experienced serious flooding and rushed to salvage what they could. Some say it was the worst flooding they have ever seen and some are now homeless.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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As the rain finally subsided yesterday and the sun peeked out from a gray blanket of clouds, residents from Kualoa Ranch to Kahuku started to pump out, clean up and rebuild their homes and businesses.

It wasn't easy in the coastline towns along Kamehameha Highway. Ka'a'awa and Waiahole Valley took the brunt of the bad weather as flooding and mudslides ruined homes and swept everything from boats to picnic tables out to sea.

Here are just some of the stories of those digging out:

WAIAHOLE VALLEY: Norman Sadoyama stood amid his papaya grove and shook his head. The torrential rains turned the leaves on more than 400 of his papaya trees yellow, evidence that they would soon die, he said.

Sadoyama, who has lived in the valley for all of his 57 years, said the ground beneath the trees became so saturated that the roots started to "melt."

"Papaya is kind of sensitive to rain. It's something you don't have any control of. You just have to take it as part of farming," he said, picking papayas while dressed in a poncho made out of a plastic trash bag. "You got to count your blessings. Compared to some places on the Mainland, we got lucky."

The road in front of his farm was littered with mud and rocks and a narrow trickle of water that wound its way toward Kamehameha Highway.

Four houses down the road on the right, a taro farmer waded through his lo'i looking for bent branches. The rain had raised the water level around the taro to the point that gusts of wind whipped water droplets into a mist.

He said his house was spared significant damage because it is elevated and not in a flood plain.

"There was a lot of rain; it just ran right down the road," said Al, who declined to give his last name. "Soil erosion, all that. Sad, but that's life."

KA'A'AWA: Philip and Carole Kaufman warmed to the house at 51-132 Kamehameha Highway two years ago because beachfront property is hard to come by.

Yesterday, Carole Kaufman, 60, waded through her living room filled with water calf deep, still in disbelief that her sofa was floating.

"The whole house flooded; it's all underwater," she said while taking refuge at a neighbor's house. "Food is floating around. It's just a mess. We had to abandon ship and now we're homeless."

The Kaufmans, who rent, had just painted the house with a friend two weeks ago after another rainstorm partially flooded their home. The recent downpour, however, is like nothing they've ever seen.

At 5 a.m. Thursday the "walls began seeping," said Carole, prompting her and her husband to scramble to elevate their valuables.

They managed to save their computer and other items, but not their furniture.

Next door, Tiare Lelepali was not so lucky.

The 24-year-old Sam's Club supervisor could only laugh as she described her $4,000 flat-screen TV that was sitting half-submerged in water. She said "everything" in her room was floating.

"We just moved here from Kahalu'u and everything just flooded," she said as her sister-in-law, Ashley Lelepali, raked debris nearby. "It was knee deep."

Adding to the loss was the death of three Japanese koi and a giant catfish that escaped when the pond in front of the home overflowed.

Tiare Lelepali was able to recapture the koi after a neighbor reported fish swimming around her lanai, but they died in a bucket Thursday night.

As she walked around her yard, Ashley Lelepali grabbed a fishing net and headed two houses down after a neighbor said a fourth koi was spotted under his house.

There was no sign of the catfish.

Nowelo Cummings, 64, rolled her eyes and tilted back her head as her husband squatted under the house and pointed out the fast swimming koi.

In the 12 years she has lived in her home, a Jeep has crashed through her living room and now her garage and front yard she shares with the Kaufmans looked like a lake.

It is the worst flooding she has ever seen in the area, she said.

"This is like living in a swimming pool," she said as her cat sat perched on a wall, anxiously staring at the water. "Everything is just a mess."

Two blocks down the highway toward the North Shore, Kathleen Duarte and her daughter Tracey stood on their porch and surveyed the 3 feet of water surrounding their home.

The Duartes had to move their cars to a neighbor's house across the street and several cabinets and other household items stored in the garage were ruined. The water was so deep and murky the Duartes didn't dare wade through it, and were trapped in their home, they said.

"It's been OK, we just can't leave the house, can't do anything" said Kathleen Duarte, 58. "I'm thinking positive."

Farther down the road, next to the Ka'a'awa fire station, 38-year-old Glenn Keo sat sipping a beer while staring at the empty space where 40 feet of his yard once stood.

Situated next to a stream that became a raging rapid after the rain, the yard, complete with concrete slabs, a picnic table and a catamaran, collapsed into the stream and was swept out to sea. Keo sat shirtless in the rain describing the torrent that tore away his land.

"Nature took its course, plain and simple," he said. "This whole place was a yard and everything just went."

PUNALU'U: The house at 53-161 Kamehameha Highway sat empty yesterday, the door slightly ajar.

A small stream of water ran out of the front door and down the steps. The front yard was filled with roughly 2 feet of water, and chickens perched on a rooftop scurried back and forth.

In the yard, three cars sat half-submerged, one of them rusting.

No one answered the door.

HAU'ULA: As firefighters tried to pump out the river that had formed on his small side street, Doug DeMartini surveyed the ankle-deep water that surrounded the ground floor of his brother's house.

Thankfully, DeMartini's brother uses the ground floor for storage and all of his furniture and valuables were on the second floor. The rain got so bad yesterday, Doug DeMartini said, the neighborhood kids were rowing a kayak down the street.

"This is higher than it has ever gotten," he said. "I came out just to check and make sure everything is cool."

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.