From Moloaa to Princeville on Sunday, residents emerged from sleepless nights with some of the heaviest rain on record on Kauai and thunder so intense it shook houses as badly as a severe earthquake.
Ironically, I’d spent Saturday in a Kauai Fire Department training session in Lihue as a member of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
Every year shortly before hurricane season, KFD schedules training for us to refresh skills we may need in the coming months. Saturday’s session was on traffic management and crowd control. The storm grew more intense as the day evolved and by late afternoon, all of us were hearing from friends and acquaintances from Hanalei to Haena who gave vivid accounts of homes literally washing away.
People rushed to Facebook and saw video showing much of Hanalei under water. Black Pot Beach, at the Hanalei Pier, had dissolved into a raging channel as the Hanalei River seemed to have completely changed course — possibly permanently.
Overturned and flooded vehicles littered the beach. Strangely, a bison was seen standing in the surf.
For those of us cut off on the North Shore, but not as far as from Hanalei to the end of the road, the scene evolved in bizarre ways filled with intense uncertainty about the welfare of friends.
For a couple of hours, Kuhio Highway was cut between Kilauea and Princeville after a storm drain was reportedly stopped up. Before the road was reopened, traffic had backed up more than two miles.
When the highway was finally again available, a waterfall that usually goes unnoticed by most passing drivers was gushing mist into both traffic lanes, with brown raging water seemingly about to sever the roadway.
Perhaps the most shocking perspective was in a mapping app maintained by an organization called the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, based in Colorado. Each day, more than 10,000 volunteers across the country post precipitation information to a central site. I’m something of a weather geek, so I’ve been a member of CoCoRaHS, as it’s called, for 10 years.
On Sunday morning, it showed a report from Hanalei of more than 36 inches of rain. I think I know the volunteer who posted it and we all tend to be anal in our effort to maintain accurate records. So I believe that much rain actually did fall in Hanalei. More than 9 inches was recorded in Kapaa and more than 5 inches in two different locations in Kilauea, including my house.
But for those of us in Kilauea, it was the intensity of the rain and the shockwaves from the thunder that were most disconcerting.
A neighbor across the street, who works as a restaurant hostess at the St. Regis Princeville Resort, was getting ready for work at about 5 a.m. when she felt the same incredibly loud clap of thunder I did. It almost knocked her off her feet.
It was almost with relief that she found out Kuhio Highway was closed and she wouldn’t be able to get to work. My neighbor is originally from Northern California and I lived in the Los Angeles area for 30 years.
Between us, we are more than a little familiar with earthquakes. But that particular clap of thunder was so incredible that we both figured it would have registered at least 6.0, and maybe 6.5, on the Richter scale — a substantial sized temblor.
Along the Kalihiwai River, police went from house to house warning residents to evacuate because of concern that a reservoir in the hills above might collapse. They feared an incident like the 2006 failure of the Kaloko Reservoir that sent water crashing down Kilauea Stream, sweeping seven victims to their deaths.
The river at Kalihiwai beach had reshaped its banks, sweeping away gigantic pine trees, which were being washed by the surf. When the rain stopped for a couple of hours, two young men emerged from a vacation rental home so apparently fearful they were ashen and walking uncertainly.
Above Kilauea, a yoga studio owner we know was barely able to escape with her husband, dog and rabbits before their rental flooded.
With just seconds to spare, they were able to move necessary belongings into a studio before the house was filled with water.
Farther east, the normally tranquil Moloaa Stream nearly washed away at least two residents’ bridges. A large tool chest floated downstream into the ocean while residents and visitors waited for the storm to turn violent again.
At the turnoff for Kahiliholo Road near Princeville, a gray Honda was stopped, buried up to its front rims in a pile of loose gravel that had washed down the road.
Farther up the road, residents said, a culvert washed out leaving a void 20 to 30 feet deep.
What was amazing was the fact that — at least by Sunday — there were still no reports of anyone killed or severely injured.
Gov. David Ige and Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. issued disaster declarations — comparatively good news, no doubt, for a friend of ours who lives in Haena and had to wade through hip-deep water Saturday night before her home flooded. She has no flood insurance.
After a drive from just Princeville to Moloaa, it was difficult to believe the storm had not inflicted a substantial toll in death and trauma. But by early Sunday afternoon, as the thunder, lightning and driving rain returned, it was even more unimaginable to think we could get through Sunday night, to Monday morning, without someone being seriously hurt or killed.
Near the Hanalei fire station near Princeville, a state road crew manned the barricade closing the highway going down into Hanalei. Despite the circumstances, though, one pickup truck driver could be heard having an altercation with the workers when they told him he could go no farther.
We were — all of us — living a reality few had ever anticipated. Even Kauai natives and longtime residents who got through Hurricane Iniki in 1992 had, by the time the sun came up on Sunday, come to realize we were experiencing something without precedent in island history — Iniki or no Iniki.
Then the rain and thunder resumed.
Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident who writes occasionally for The Garden Island.