HANALEI – As most of the island took shelter from torrential rains on Tuesday, Tommy Hamai and Owen Wadhwani-Meeks spent the afternoon out in the storm, helping shuttle people and supplies across the swollen Hanalei River.
Both experienced watermen, Wadhwani-Meeks, 18 and Hamai, 15, were volunteered for the task by Wadhwani-Meeks’ mother, Tanya, who read a circulating Facebook post about 150 people sheltered at Hanalei School on Tuesday after Kuhio Highway was closed due to flooding, trapping people in Hanalei.
Kaua‘i resident Jimit Mehta was one who helped circulate the post early Tuesday morning, asking for assistance in providing breakfast for approximately 45 people who were being housed at the Hanalei School shelter.
“I responded to Jimit’s Facebook post and volunteered the boys to pick up the meals Foodland was providing to the stranded folks at Hanalei School,” Tanya Wadhwani said. “The boys are safe and confident watermen: Owen just completed his USCG captain’s training coursework and exams last week.”
Throughout the day the number of stranded people grew to more than 150 at the American Red Cross shelter at Hanalei School.
Wadhwani-Meeks and Hamai started their mission by checking water levels in the river at about 2:45 p.m. Tuesday.
“My friend Tommy and I grabbed his small fishing boat to launch an hour prior to pick up to ensure that the river was safe enough to cross. I had just passed the course for my master 100-ton captain’s license, and with our local knowledge, we knew the river was safe for us,” Wadhwani-Meeks said.
Once they were comfortable with the conditions, the pair met up with Kaua‘i resident Kenneth Long, who picked up food from Foodland for those at the shelter. They loaded supplies into the boat and off they went.
After they dropped supplies off at Hanalei School, the duo decided to put their boat to use ferrying people across the water.
“We loaded up the people in the bed of the truck and brought them to the Hanalei boat yard and took them two at a time to ensure everyone’s safety, “ Wadhwani-Meeks said. “The people with medical emergencies, the elderly, and people with flights to catch had first priority. We did four trips in the truck to Hanalei School and brought 30 to 40 people across form 3 to 5:45 p.m. Tommy and I traded off between driving the boat and helping people in and pushing the boat off so that there was less weight in. Tommy did most of the boating because it was his boat.”
“There were a few people that needed a little extra assistance. They were calm and thankful. We were just doing our part,” Hamai said.
Wadhwani-Meeks said that, throughout the mission, they had to drive through almost knee-deep water.
Mehta said he saw the circulating Facebook post while he was in San Diego.
“The next morning, I reached out to our manager at Kalypso to see what she could do to help. Not to my surprise, Flavia DiGrazia, our manager, told me that she had a crew that had stayed behind the night before due to the bridge closure,” Mehta said.
“That breakfast for 50 people. One member of our staff was six months pregnant, yet she chose to stay and help. Shortly after, I received a message that it is no longer 50 people but 75 people. I called Flavia and told her the news. Shortly after she said ‘no problem,’ as our staff told her ‘we got this.’”
Mehta continued to coordinate the meals for lunch and dinner. He learned that Hanalei Gourmet was going to donate their St. Patrick’s Day meal, which he had intended to sell in his restaurant to all the people that were stranded.
Additionally, Bar Acuda had decided to donate soup and cheese sandwiches as well for lunch. Tahiti Nui had offered to provide a part of the meal. They only had two staff members: Melissa Osano and Julia Whitford, but they made it happen.
Then Mehta got in contact with Foodland in Princeville and received a donation of 75 bags of chips and sandwiches.
The next challenge for Mehta was to coordinate the food to get across the river to the school. He reached out on social media, and that’s when Tanya Wadhwani reached out.
“Although it was a noble gesture, their safety was obviously a concern for all of us. The boys indicated to us that would try to find a window of opportunity to cross the river when the tides permit,” Mehta said.
The National Weather Service issued a flash-flood watch on Tuesday until today at 6 p.m. A severe thunderstorm watch went into effect at 2:11 p.m.
“As of Wednesday, there are heavy showers and thunderstorms. Flood advisory first-level action raining hard, not a flash flood as of yet at 3:45 p.m.” NWS meteorologist Ian Morrison said.
Morrison also said that Po‘ipu had 1.46 inches of rain reported within 24 hours, which was more than Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, and that is rare.
According to Morrison, there was a severe-thunderstorm warning on Wednesday, and their radar estimated winds earlier that day at 60 miles per hour.
He predicts that the weather will continue to produce heavy rain through this afternoon.
“Looks like more rain. Check out our safety statement on our website. If you are driving around through heavy rain, and if there is water on the road, please turn around, don’t drown,” Morrison said.
On the Westside, homes like Kekaha resident Bruce Newport Kilauano’s are flooding quickly.
“Westside of Kaua‘i had multiple areas of flooding: Waimea Valley, fields mauka of highway and Kekaha Road and western Kekaha,” Kilauano said.
He continued: “Too bad we had to get to this point, as it is known by all if the drainage ditches are not opened to ensure adequate flow of the water coming off the mountain then buildup in the fields (occurs) between the residents and the mountains. Damage to some property occurred, and that is unfortunate. Please in the future remember to take timely action and not have any property damage.
“Yesterday, we had 13.13 inches of rain since 10 p.m. Sunday, with 6.5 inches Tuesday morning between midnight and 8 a.m.”
On the North Shore, it was day two of heavy rains, which weren’t helping homeowners or farmers.
American Red Cross Kaua‘i executive Padriac Gallagher has been a step ahead of the rain, making use of some storage bins ARC purchased with a county grant to help store blankets and equipment they need for times like these.
He said, “On the North shore, it’s very busy. People are getting ready for bad weather coming.”
Stephanie Shinno, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.