Family fears landslides below might kill someone

KAPA’A — Members of the Panui ‘ohana own a property above Kawaihau Road, and each night they fall asleep to soothing sounds of the ocean off the Kapa’a shoreline.

Last Sunday, the Panui family members were awakened by a discordant sound, that of clanking heavy equipment of Kaua’i County and members of work crews clearing a mudslide on Kawaihau Road located under their property.

No injuries occurred, and both road lanes were closed during the cleanup, shutting off the most direct route through the Kawaihau District, which has the largest population of any district on the island.

In an interview with The Garden Island, family members said they just want to continue hearing the ocean sounds, and that next time they hear the grinding and grading sounds of machinery down below, it could mean a tragedy, maybe death, from cars colliding or being buried due to a mudslide.

State and county government officials could avoid that scenario by including extending an existing retaining wall to their property, or putting a net over the hillside by their property, the Panui ‘ohana members said.

“Our concern is about the erosion causing an accident or death,” Henry Panui said.

“We don’t know where to go. We have talked with Maryanne Kusaka (when she was mayor), Mayor (Bryan) Baptiste and the state,” said Alice Panui. “It made me feel good to hear they were going to come to do something. But nobody has done anything.”

The lack of action by government leaders has resulted in the continued threat of mudslides from the hillside, believed to be managed by leaders of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the loss of some land from their own property, which sits vertically on top of the state land, Henry Panui said.

“You know a mudslide can take out a school bus and damage property (across the street from the Panui property ),” he said. “I have lost land, and I am worried.”

He said a future landslide can cause injuries or death, and create liability for leaders of government agencies and members of his family.

The hillside drops 35 feet to 40 feet from the top of the Panui family property to the county-owned Kawaihau Road below.

County Engineer Donald Fujimoto was not immediately available for comment yesterday.

The parcel is home to two homes, one owned by Alice Panui that will be given to one of her sons, Henry Panui, and his wife and the couple’s young daughter, Elena.

The property also is home to another son, Wayne Panui, his wife, Kara, and two children.

The property also is used by two children who are sisters of the Panui brothers.

Alice Panui said she doesn’t want to make any trouble for government officials, and “just wants help.”

The hillside beneath the Panui property began eroding in 1991, when heavy rains drenched the island and extensive flooding covered parts of Anahola’s low-lying areas, and threatened homes before the rains subsided.

The Anahola flood took at least two lives.

“I figure we lost five to six feet of property then, and we could lose more if something isn’t done,” Henry Panui said.

His wife, Kerry, said the persistent rain makes her fret about the erosion around her home.

“I am worried about our house. What would happen to it if the erosion (of the state lands) keeps going to our property?” she asked.

If the erosion is unabated, the rain, in time, will wash away the state-owned land, and then starting eating away at her property, she said.

Alice Panui said she has asked government officials for help since 1996, but hasn’t seen any solutions put forward and implemented.

Henry Panui said when he asked government leaders for help, he was told by them “there was only so much money to do spot work like this,” he said.

Alice Panui said she asked Baptiste for help when he was a member of the County Council in the late 1990s.

“He came up to look around,” she said. “And he said they are going to have to do something. But nothing. I no blame him, but we need help.”

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