Kauai's north coast getting back on its feet after record rainfall

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A team from Kauai County, including Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. (not pictured), surveyed the damage to the north shore of the island on Thursday, April 19.
A team from Kauai County, including Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. (not pictured), surveyed the damage to the north shore of the island on Thursday, April 19. Photo Credit: County of Kauai

After thunderstorms dumped more than two feet of rain on the northern coast of Kauai April 14 and 15, some areas have largely returned to normal. One region, however is still digging out from mudslides and coping with loss of services.

Landslides continue to block access along Kuhio Highway between Waikoko and Wainiha, and the communities of Haena and Wainiha have been cut off as a result. Authorities have not established a timeline for clearing the most heavily damaged areas, and it is expected that some roads will be closed for several weeks.

After the storms passed, residents and county officials took to Facebook and other social media, posting images of mud-filled roadways; felled trees and power lines; sinkholes; and damaged homes. During the torrential rain, a herd of bison got free from Hanalei Bison Ranch and roamed the area before being rounded up on the Hanalei Beach early in the week.

According to the National Weather Service in Honolulu, the rain gauge in the town of Hanalei collected 27.52 inches of precipitation from early Saturday morning into Sunday morning. That eclipses all previous one- and two-day rainfall records in that location.

The lush, verdant northern coast of Kauai is very familiar with heavy precipitation. It is one of the wettest places on the planet, with 5,100-foot-tall Mount Waialeale receiving more than 400 inches of rain annually. Hanalei, where the 24-hour rainfall record was set, averages 78 inches per year. Still, longtime residents quickly realized this was a rare event.

Simon Potts, who has operated the Hanalei Surfboard House since 1998, is used to strong rains, but this storm kept him and his guests up all night.

"It's the biggest thunder I've ever experienced here, and it was a completely sleepless night," Potts said. "The rain was unrelenting, and while we're OK here at the Surfboard House, a few houses nearby were torn off their foundation."

Potts is east of the road closures, and the Surfboard House is open and welcoming guests, although many of his booked clients have been calling and messaging for updates. The nearby St. Regis Princeville, after experiencing power and water outages but no damage, is also open and still welcoming guests, according to a statement from the property.

While many of the hotels and areas east of Hanalei Bay are still accessible and functioning, the communities west of the bay are experiencing more road closures and transportation and infrastructure issues.

Kirby Guyer, owner of Hale Hoo Maha, west of the bay in the Wainiha area, is safe but severed from road access. All of the guests have made it out safely, she said, but much is left to be done.

"We have a couple that had to leave their rental car behind, and I still have the luggage of another," Guyer said. "We have some mud, but the house is fine. The problem is we're solidly booked and no one can get here because the road is closed."

Guyer said she is doing her best to contact her booked guests to give them the most up-to-date information.

Across from Hale Hoo Maha, the Hanalei Colony Resort is serving as a distribution point for supplies, such as food and water, for those who are sheltering in place along with the YMCA's Camp Naue. As of Sunday, the Hanalei Colony Resort had a message posted on its website alerting that it is not taking guests at this time and is canceling all reservations through May 31 while providing full refunds.

"The resort itself emerged from the storms in excellent shape, but the surrounding area remains inaccessible and in a state of emergency," the message reads. "Flood response and recovery efforts still continue."

The Division of State Parks has closed Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, Haena State Park, Polihale State Park and portions of Wailua River State Park. Haena and Napali Coast parks are closed indefinitely due to extensive damage to the roads leading into both parks.

The northern coast of Kauai bore the brunt of the storm, and other popular areas with visitors, such as Poipu Beach on the south shore, are operating as normal.

"We are doing our best to keep people updated," said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau.
"The area from Haena to Hanalei is severely damaged, and things could change day to day with more weather coming on. For visitors, a lot depends on where you are staying. If you're in Poipu, there's no problem down there, but if your plan was to hike Kalalau Trail [on the Napali Coast] it's not happening for a while."

The Koa Kea Hotel and Resort welcomed some displaced guests from the north this week, according to director of marketing Giovanni Prada. The property at Poipu is keeping guests updated on its website and on social media and is collecting supplies and donations for the impacted communities around Hanalei.

By Saturday, workers had addressed all of the reported outages, and 477 people had been evacuated by helicopter from the Haena and Wainiha area since last Monday, according to Kauai County. Water service has also been restored to all but one area, a portion of Weke Road near Black Pot Beach in Hanalei.

Work has begun to clear and repair Kuhio Highway between Lumahai and Wainiha. "Six larger landslides and six smaller landslides have been discovered, and thousands of pounds of mud, trees and debris must be cleared from the roadway to allow passage by vehicle. A definitive timeframe has not been established," the County of Kauai said in a statement. Additionally, Lei o Papa Road and Hanalei Plantation Road in Princeville are both closed due to sinkholes.

For travelers who are leaving the area of Kilauea and Hanalei, the Kauai Bus is providing free service and allowing luggage onboard with a waiver of the carry-on policy for those leaving the disaster area.

Anyone who has plans to visit Kauai in the coming weeks is advised to contact their accommodations provider. The latest information can be found on the County of Kauai and Hawaii Division of State Parks websites.

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