Dazed residents of Kilauea reflect on close calls, death
|Kaua'i flood photo gallery|
|||2nd dam failure feared|
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Peter Boylan
WAILAPA STREAM, MILE MARKER 21, KILAUEA, Kaua'i — Carole Wells was having coffee at 5:30 a.m. yesterday when she began hearing the loud rumbling of what sounded like high surf snapping tree limbs.
"I went on my lanai and the noise got louder and louder and louder," she said yesterday, gesturing toward a wooded area behind her home abutting Wailapa Stream.
"It hit our trees and it sounded like firecrackers going off. We lost our forest, which is nothing compared to our neighbors losing their lives."
Everywhere along the North Shore of Kaua'i, witnesses to a rampage of rushing water gave stark testimony of lives and property lost, and close calls with disaster.
Many residents still couldn't believe what they had seen.
"I thought ... a tidal wave is coming over the trees," said Marie Atkinson, whose house also sits on a stream bank on Kahili Makai Road. "It's just a mess. You can't replace the lives." Authorities yesterday said one person was killed and seven were missing after the breach of the Kaloko Reservoir dam.
Bob Capwell, 65, a Connecticut native who is building a house next to Wailapa Stream, said he had no idea what happened to some of his neighbors.
"That whole landscape has changed dramatically," he said, as he stood along Kuhio Highway on the Lihu'e side of Wailapa Road. "It's tragic, much more tragic than property loss."
One lucky driver and his passengers barely escaped the torrent.
Alistair Paterson was driving two friends to the airport along the highway when he saw a bus stopped in front of him just before Wailapa Stream about 6 a.m. In a hurry, Paterson drove around the bus and right into the middle of rushing water.
The water started rising at "about a foot a second," he said. The engine died and soon his Ford Explorer was floating rapidly toward what Paterson described as an 18-foot-high wall of water rushing over the edge of the highway.
"It was apparent we were in something really serious," he said. Next, the car lights went dead and water started pouring in from the windows. The tops of the telephone poles stuck out of the water like buoys, he said, but his SUV stayed afloat as it picked up speed.
Before it hit the flood, Paterson's SUV was sucked into a side stream. Seeing a low-hanging branch, Paterson and his friend, Martin Dunford of Kenya, climbed the roof of the vehicle and grabbed the branch while Dunford's wife, Geraldine, stayed with the car.
After holding on for three or four minutes, their weight bringing the branch low enough to stop the SUV from floating away, Paterson said the water receded rapidly.
In minutes, Paterson and the Dunfords were surrounded by muddy water and downed power lines. Soon after they heard emergency workers shouting at them to get out of the water.
"It was pretty spooky," said Paterson, a 20-year Kaua'i resident and native of Zambia who is managing director of Halaulani Ranch. "Let me tell you something, the Ford Explorer may flip over but they float like a boat."
Longtime residents described in disbelief the permanent changes to the landscape. Sections of Wailapa Stream before the dam burst were little more than "meandering bodies of water" about 5 feet deep, residents said.
But by 3 p.m. yesterday, the stream had been sculpted by the floodwaters into a river as wide as 75 feet in some places.
Wells, who along with her son and husband own a tree farm on Kahili Makai Road, pointed to a gray slab of concrete behind her home surrounded by red, debris-filled water and uprooted trees.
Seven people lived in a house and two hut-like homes called yurts where the slab stood, including a woman, her husband and 2-year-old child.
Wells, who lost more than half of her 1,000 Honduras mahogany trees, said she remembers when her neighbors built a small bridge across the stream so their children could run back and forth among the large green lots that line Wailapa Stream along Kahili Makai Road.
Several of the white fences that separate lots were knocked down yesterday and the water's raging path was marked by trees ripped from the ground and stacked on top of one another in twisted piles of wood and muck.
An above-ground swimming pool was completely washed away and tree-lined backyards were turned into eroding patches of soil that fell in chunks into the running, dirt-red water.
Ed and Joyce Doty thought the patch of land right next to the Morita Reservoir was perfect for building their dream home. The idyllic spot, surrounded by tall trees and backed by the water, reminded them of their old home in California.
Everything changed yesterday.
"I was asleep and my husband came running in and said, 'There are police cars here and my (concrete) equipment shed is gone,'" she said, as the couple surveyed the muddy mess that was their backyard.
The rushing water ripped two large, steel diesel tanks from their concrete foundations and pushed a backhoe into a precarious position on a ledge over the water. Trees were strewn around her yard and deep gashes were visible in the soil and stream where the water ran through. Surrounding the reservoir's mud wall was a steep drop carved by the floodwater that Ed Doty estimated at about 100 feet.
"The water (going over the reservoir) looked like Niagara Falls. It just gave way. I don't know what we're going to do with this. ... We've got a canyon."
As T.J. Gearhart, 17, and Ivyr Lluellen, 16, hiked through the bushes near Wailapa Stream, all they could talk about was whether their friend Jake's house was still there.
"We'll cut across Bette Midler's waterfall. There is a bridge there and then we can hike up to the road," said Gearhart, as he pushed through the deep brush that surrounds the private property in the area.
The pair came out of the woods and took their first look at the waterfall where they played as kids. Gone were the concrete bridge, stairs and guardrails, and in their place were pieces of homes, stacks of broken plates and clothes and fallen trees.
The falls were "much steeper" than anything they had ever seen, the two Kapa'a High School students said as they hopped over branches and scaled piles of debris.
"Houses were falling down there," said Lluellen, standing on a ledge and pointing toward an empty lot where he said an impromptu homeless village once stood. "We're missing people."
The boys waded through knee-deep muddy water to the Hanalei side of the stream and scrambled up a muddy embankment. Pausing to look at the muddy runoff mixing with the ocean, the boys saw a Coast Guard C-130 as it buzzed over the coast.
"This is the worst thing I've ever seen," said Gearhart.
Reach Peter Boylan at firstname.lastname@example.org.