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Kauai Keeps a Wary Eye on Storm's Approach

Residents worry that rain and wind could trigger landslides from hillsides made unstable by flooding.

(TNS) - Residents on Kauai’s north shore who have yet to recover from April’s rain and floods are nervous about Hurricane Lane.

Even if Lane does not hit Kauai as a hurricane later this week, struggling residents still worry that rain and wind could trigger landslides from hillsides made unstable by the flooding.

The state Department of Transportation was calling back crews who were repairing Kuhio Highway, a major artery whose damage in the flooding had initially caused the rural communities of Haena and Wainiha to be cut off from the rest of the island.

“We’re not going to have people out there during a hurricane watch, that’s for sure,” said DOT spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige. “The safety of the crews and the people traveling the roads, that’s tantamount.”

Residents who continue to rebuild their homes in Haena and Wainiha know that there’s little county officials can do to protect property, roads, bridges and mountain slopes from hurricane-force wind and the rain.

“We’re bracing for impact and possibly being isolated again,” said Laura Richards, general manager of the Hanalei Colony Resort, which is actually in Haena. “The mountains are not secured yet, while we’re still trying to get some semblance of order back in our lives.”

So with Hurricane Lane taking a Hurricane Iniki-like turn toward Kauai, Richards said, “There’s a lot of anxiousness. The sun’s out, but in a couple of days it might be very different.”

Kauai County Mayor Bernard Carvalho was scheduled to lead a community meeting Tuesday night in Haena, along with representatives from the Kauai Emergency Management Agency, the departments of Public Works, Parks and Recreation, police and firefighters. Officials from the state Department of Transportation and Department of Land and Natural Resources also were planning to attend.

In a statement, Carvalho said, “This community continues to be isolated following the April flood, so it’s important that we are preparing for the potential impacts of Hurricane Lane. While there is still some uncertainty in the timing and severity of the system, we want to be sure we are staying in close communication with our isolated residents as it approaches the state.”

The meeting was scheduled to take place at the Hanalei Colony Resort’s Opakapaka Grill, where restaurant owner Gregg Fraser said, “We have to be prepared for a worst-case scenario.”

In April, “50 inches of rain brought down a lot of debris and closed that road,” Fraser said of Kuhio Highway. “Now the primary concern, other than the obvious threat of 100-mph-plus winds, is how prepared will we be on the north shore of Kauai. There are still a lot of homes that are only halfway rebuilt from the flood, and they’re not ready for 100-mph-plus winds.”

Even though the state Department of Education has funded repairs at area public schools, Fraser said he continues to spend his own money to prepare lunches for students at a makeshift school next to the Hanalei Colony Resort.

For eight weeks after the floods, Fraser said, he also prepared “literally hundreds of free meals to first responders,” along with breakfasts supplied by the Hawaii Food Bank.

“The people on the north shore are still living the flood as if it happened yesterday,” Fraser said. “We have no tourist traffic and limited access in and out of the road (Kuhio Highway). Hopefully, we’ll get this beautiful part of the world back to normal.”

Andy Friend and Stuart Wellington, co-owners of a bison ranch in Hanalei, spent days after the rain leading paniolo across the North Shore to round up wayward bison frightened by the storms and floods, including one that was towed in from the sea April 18.

Fourteen bison remain unaccounted for, and the ranch is now left with 75 to 80 head, Friend said.

“If the Hanalei River overflows its banks and our pasture gets a couple of feet of water, there’s plenty of places where the bison can go to ground and they can be out of the water,” Friend said. “But when you have 8 feet of water, the bison are helpless.”

Trevor Kaona of Kilauea joined the volunteer flotilla that ferried residents, food and supplies back and forth from Hanalei to Haena and Wainiha in the weeks following the floods.

Almost five months later, Kaona said, “A lot of the local families are still trying to get their bearings. They’ve spent the last couple of months just trying to clear everything out.”

Residents fear the threat of more rain, mud and debris coming their way.

“We’re all worried that we’ll see a repeat of a bunch of mudslides that will set the whole situation back five months,” Kaona said. “But for now, honestly, we’re all just in limbo.”


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