Rack saved life in rock slide

HANAPEPE — The rain was coming down like it has been for the greater part of March.

Visibility was low due to the late-evening hour on March 9, coupled with the driving rain.

All of a sudden, there was a jolt.

“It surprised me,” Alfred Balauro said. “It was all a matter of timing, a moment in time.”

Balauro was trapped under a rock slide on one of the narrowest portions of the road leading in and out of Hanapepe Valley, and figures it was the pipe rack atop the truck that saved his life, keeping a boulder that pinned him in his vehicle from totally crushing him, he said.

He figures the rack broke the fall of the boulder that squashed the pickup’s roof and separated it from the windshield before coming to rest in the cab, where it pinned Balauro in his seat.

On a return visit to the site Monday, Balauro noted that “there’re still pieces of glass there.”

The roadway has eroded even further, an orange safety cone stuck into its unstable portion.

Balauro peered over the portion of rock wall that has been eroded away, pointing out that some of the rocks in the crevice leading to the Hanapepe River came from the rock slide.

“There was a pile of rocks alongside the cliff-side, and another pile sitting next to me in the truck,” Balauro recalled. “The windshield just disintegrated.”

“I was able to call 9-1-1,” Balauro said. “And, I started shouting for help. The people in the first house heard me and came to help, and I remember a Jeep stopping, and those people helping.

“The guys who pulled me out knew I was going to be OK when they heard me say, ‘Gee, you mean I’m still alive?’ ” Balauro chuckled.

Balauro considers himself lucky because he had tools in his pickup that he was using to check ditches for overflows for his supervisors with Monsanto before locking the gates and heading for home around 5:45 p.m.

His rescuers used those tools to pry him from his pickup that was destroyed by the falling rocks.

“Cheap thrills,” Balauro said. “I guess it just wasn’t my time.”

Randy Yokoyama, the Kaua‘i branch manager for Monsanto, said the dog that was in the back of Balauro’s truck broke through the collar and split.

“She was smart,” Balauro laughed. “She broke out of the collar and disappeared. We found her back at the building a day later. But now she misses going out to check the fields.”

Balauro suffered a fracture in his sixth vertebrae, resulting in a pinched nerve. Corrective action was taken on O‘ahu, where he underwent surgery, and his sixth and seventh vertebrae were wired together, he explained.

“The pain stopped after the surgery. There’s a little numbness in my fingers, but that’s going away,” Balauro said as he gazed out on the brown waters of the Hanapepe River that flow past the Monsanto office.

“But, it hurts more when I’m lying around at home,” Balauro chuckled. He took advantage of his doctor’s consent to return to work at Monsanto, where he has been employed for 27 years. “And, the doctors said I have to walk a lot.”

“He can’t lift anything,” Yokoyama said. “And his doctor said he can only work four hours a day.”

Balauro, a research assistant for Monsanto, said, “paperwork piles up when you spend a lot of your time in the field. It’s the nature of the job, so now, I spend four hours looking at a computer terminal.”

Balauro’s field tasks included a wide variety of activities, including spraying, insect and disease scouting, fertilizer recommendations, and more. “I’m sorta the all-purpose guy, you know?”

Balauro said his collar needs to stay on for another five weeks, and he doesn’t really know beyond that what his recovery will entail.

But, because of his inability to do any kind of heavy work, he said his destroyed truck will just have to sit at his home until he can get around to salvaging its contents, retiring the papers, and calling the wreckers.

“It’s still good for parts,” he laughs. “Anyone got a good, economical, used, four-wheel-drive pickup?”

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