Rising above their troubles

  • Ryan Collins / The Garden Island
    Little visual damage remains from the flood last year on the Anahola Stream, but the storm left its mark on bridges spanning the stream.
  • Ryan Collins / The Garden Island
    Debris still remains from last April's flood in the Anahola stream near Anahola Beach Park, just as the debate about who's responsibility it is to clean up lingers.
  • Ryan Collins / The Garden Island

    Cheryl Gilbert points out where she remembers the flood water rising to on her step ladder. Gilbert and her husband rode out the storm in their house on the banks of the Anahola River.

Editor’s note: The Garden Island continues a series of stories on the one-year anniversary of flooding that devastated much of the island. We are looking at the impact of the flood, the recovery, how things stand today and what’s ahead.

ANAHOLA — If you ask the aunties and uncles living on Anahola Road, they will tell you they didn’t get hit by last April’s flood as bad as people living near the Anahola bridge or the North Shore.

They will even tell you about past natural disasters that were much worse, rocking their neighborhood to the core, like Hurricane Iniki.

Still, the remembrance of last year’s flooding in Anahola served as a staunch reminder the power Mother Nature holds over Kauai, compounded by debris from invasive species like the albizia tree, which filled the Anahola stream last April, bringing with it destruction and the potential of death.

Stories of homes being carried down river, cars, trailers and even a backhoe serve as new mythology of the flood that swept down the river just over a year ago, joining a long line of previous natural disasters that have hit Kauai.

Now, those stories have become synonymous with the disaster some are calling a “300-year flood” that came as quickly as it went.

The cleanup near Anahola Beach in the stream is ongoing, according to residents there, who said agencies continue to argue about who is responsible for the cleanup of debris still floating and stagnating in Anahola Stream.

A small camping site sits near the stream, close to Anahola Beach Park, where sticks mixed with trash float in a cumulative lingering memento of the flood.

“They all just kind of point to the finger to the other guy saying, ‘Oh, it’s his problem.’ In the meantime, the rains keep coming,” said uncle Gary, sitting next to his wife Brenda while their granddaughter rode around on her tricycle, stopping to strum on her ukulele.

They have lived there for 37 years, a fixture in Anahola.

The rains and flood have meant more work for some in the area, like Jerome Macabeo, who works for Garden Island Tree Care.

“Mostly just on the foundation wise, everything down here is on the concrete slab,” Macabeo said. “If anything, they kind of sunk, if anything, most of it is the overgrowth. There’s so much water that came down, then the sunlight came right after that. The trees started getting bigger, but most of it has to do with tree damage.”

Macabeo said that damaged trees are the biggest danger his community has faced since the storm.

“It’s super dangerous,” Macabeo said. “Trees become super dangerous when it’s too much water. Those kinds of trees, they get super heavy on the top and the ratio of how much weight on the top versus the trunk, they’re going to split in half.”

Near the Anahola bridge, Cheryl Gilbert points to the high-water mark where the rains rose the river to her step ladder that didn’t wash away during the flood. The holes on the steps of the ladder allowed water to flow through, keeping it stationary during the deluge.

“We lost a lawn tractor. It floated down the river, but those people over there (across the river), they lost everything,” said Gilbert, who with her husband Barry rode out the flood with minimal damage to their two houses that rest on the river bank. They built them nine feet off the ground on blocks to withstand these kind of storms.

“As you can see, the river comes down and curves,” Gilbert said. “Well, it didn’t curve, it just went straight. So we had two rivers. One going this way and one going straight across.”

Gilbert added that all seven houses across the river from her house got hit harder by the flood. She and her husband were fortunate to just lose a few tools and some lumber, in addition to a lawn tractor.

“They were all built up real high, so many of them that are that high, the water didn’t reach inside the house,” Gilbert said of some of her neighbors. “The last time there were any floodwaters like this it was 1992, that was with Hurricane Iniki.”

Gilbert remembers getting flood warnings last year as the rain started, but she and her husband decided to stay put in their house.

“It had been raining all day Saturday and we kept getting flood warning and we ignored them pretty much, we’d look out and nothing was happening,” Gilbert said. “The last flood warning was at like 1 a.m. and the flood hit about, I’m guessing, about five is when we started having things float away, but like I said, those people over there got it bad.”

Gilbert recalls cars floating away and smashing into her neighbors’ houses across the river, and more importantly, the community effort that took place after the flood. It was something that still clearly stands out in her mind as a positive that came from the flood.

“Everybody jumped in and helped out, sure,” Gilbert said. “When we were up here and we saw nothing was happening, we went down to the store to see what was happening.”

For others like Buck Ortiz from Colorado, he remembers waking up to the flood on Anahola Beach.

“I woke up and there was a car in the ocean,” Ortiz said. “These lifeguards came running through the yard with their kayak because they were going to go check and see if anybody was inside the car. They didn’t have a paddle with them, so we threw them one of our paddles and they cruised out there and they didn’t find anybody in the car, but there was so much rubble and debris in the ocean everybody just kicked in and started cleaning up.”

“I was getting told by other people that there was a house that came floating down the river,” Ortiz said.

It’s something that still sticks with them. And they know it could happen again.

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