There was no shortage of heroes in the aftermath of the storm that dumped a record-breaking four feet of rain on Hanalei in April. The people on the North Shore are a rugged breed and the spirit of being there for each other is the norm. Call it “the Aloha Spirit.” But this, which many are calling “the storm of the century,” brought out the best of that spirit; as many Hanaleians went above and beyond the call to help others.
Among these, there are three women whose story should be told because, without them, the aftermath of the flooding in Hanalei could have been much worse. Only through the heroic acts of Rebecca Lovelace, Vivian Dela Cruz , who work at the Hanalei Big Save market and Talitha Byram, the general manager there, were residents in Hanalei able to get the supplies they needed when they needed them most.
Vivian commutes from Kapaa to work and both Talitha and Rebecca live in Kilauea. So all three were isolated at the Big Save when the county closed the Hanalei Bridge Saturday night in the wake of a flash-flood alert. While they could have easily closed their doors, like every other shop in Hanalei, they kept the store open, in the midst of the massive electrical storm.
They, with the help of some customers, tried to deal with the leaking roof by shifting rubbish cans around to catch the water, little knowing that this would be the least of their problems. When the lightning knocked out the electricity, they fired up the back-up generator to keep the store running. They kept the store open until 11 Saturday night — one hour later that usual; as customers were stranded there by the relentless downpour.
Finally getting the doors closed, they prepared to hunker down for the night. They slept near the cash registers on inflatable beach mattresses they happened to have in stock — though real sleep was impossible with constant thunder and lightning exploding in every part of the sky.
It was about 2 a.m. when Vivian noticed her rubber slipper floating past her mattress like a toy boat. The women soon realized that water was seeping from under the doors — both front and back — at an alarming rate. They tried stuffing towels into the cracks of the thresholds; but with little success and soon found themselves standing in muddy water above their ankles.
They hustled to get everything off the floor that would be damaged, placing that stuff on counters and shelves. They then retreated to higher ground — employee break room, a step up from the main floor — as danger of electric shock from the appliances became a serious concern. A long hour later, the water miraculously began to recede.
“It drained off faster than it flooded in,” as Talitha recalls it, leaving behind a layer of soggy silt a half-inch thick.
That’s when the cleaning began. Needless to say, the three women got no sleep that Saturday night.
By Sunday morning the thunder had abated, though the rain kept coming, lighter now. I waded through eight inches of water down the center of Kuhio Highway. There was no traffic except for a couple of people paddling kayaks down the street.
Toward the curbside, water overflowed into my rubber boots. The stream by Mitch’s surf shop was bloated two feet above the banks. Hanalei Center was a lake; but draining. Ching Young Village was shut down. All the shops in Hanalei were closed — not unusual for six in the morning — but they would remain closed all that day and the next. Except, to my amazement, the lights were on at the Big Save. The doors were open and I saw Talitha and other people milling around in there. From a distance, it looked like a normal day at the Big Save. The image was truly surreal — a beckon of normalcy at the edge of a devastated ghost town.
But when I reached the Big Save, I saw it was anything but normal. The flood had taken its toll here like everywhere else and they were busy cleaning up the mess. I grabbed a mop and bucket nobody was using and went after the mud puddles back by the meat and fish. It seemed a futile effort as I was only ringing out a pint at a time. Meanwhile, Vivian and Rebecca were sucking up water near the deli section with a wet-dry vacuum cleaner.
And a fellow named Junior, another hero, pushed a long-handled squeegee down the aisles, rounding up gallons at a time and herding it into floor drains. His was an endless job because water kept seeping out from under the shelves and other nooks where it was hiding.
But Talitha was determined to open the store so that people could get supplies they needed. And at 9 a.m., deciding it was safe enough for customers, she opened, letting only one person in at a time. She had Vivian escorted the lone shopper to make sure they didn’t slip. There was still puddles forming here and there.
A line formed outside the Big Save of customers who were happy to know that they would not be deprived by the storm that cut them off from the rest of the world. It was only by the efforts of these three woman, Rebecca, Vivian and Talitha , that Hanalei was able to carry on normally under these highly abnormal conditions. They gave a new definition to the store name, Big Save.
All Sunday, Hanalei residents and visitors lined up outside the door. They were served one or two at a time. About midday, Talitha closed the store for one hour for a lunch break. After, she re-opened and stayed open until 11 p.m., one hour later than usual.
“Might as well,” she said, “we had to be there, anyway.”
Sleepless for 48 hours, and tirelessly serving the people of Hanalei all that time, they laid down on their inflatable beach mats, in the employee break room, and slept.
At 6:30 sharp, Monday morning, they opened the store as usual, the only sign of life in Hanalei that could be called “normal.” Hanalei Bridge opened Monday afternoon. The three women worked a 56-hour shift. They kept the vigil until they were relieved by the next shift.
Richard Morse is a resident of Hanalei.