East Hawai‘i Begins Cleanup After Record Rainfall
East Hawai‘i Island businesses, homeowners and Hawai‘i County have begun damage assessments and cleanup after severe flooding in from Hurricane Lane.
Hilo International Airport recorded 36.76 inches of rain between Aug. 22 and midnight on Aug. 25, 2018.
Thursday night, the Wailuku River and streams that feed in to the various parts of the river overflowed, causing flooding to take place in neighborhoods along the river as well as in all low-lying areas of Hilo.
Much of East Hawai‘i was left with road damage, landslides and, street and home flooding, leaving many with major cleanup to be done.
The National Weather Service said Lane brought the third highest storm rainfall from a tropical cyclone since 1950.
Over four days, between noon Wednesday, Aug. 22, through 4 a.m on Sunday, Aug. 26, the National Weather service reported the following preliminary rainfall totals:
- Waiakea Uka – 49.10”
- Pi‘ihonua – 47.48”
- Saddle Quarry – 47.20”
- Waiakea Experimental Station – 43.99”
- Pāhoa – 37.28”
- Glenwood – 35.40”
- Kulani – 28.52”
On Reeds Island and in the Pi‘ihonua area, residents were self-evacuating due to rapidly moving rainwaters.
Reports of flooding also came in from fast-moving floodwater came in from Papikou, Pe‘epekeo, Kaiwiki Road, Downtown Hilo, Kea‘au, Hawaiian Pararadise Park, Hawaiian Acres, Ka‘ū, Kohala and all along the Hāmākua Coast.
Rescues were made in downtown Hilo, Kea‘au Ag Lots, Kole Kole and various locations in Puna.
Hawai‘i County reports there were 39 people rescued in 24 hours between Saturday night and Sunday morning—nearly all were in Puna.
“Residents are being asked to stay alert and be cautious on the roads,” Hawai‘i County Information Specialist Kelly Wooten said. “Roads have been damaged and hazards are still present. Closures can also occur without notice.”
Among businesses that experienced flooding in downtown Hilo was Locavore, a grocer that sells all locally grown and made goods—primarily produce—on Kamehameha Avenue.
Locavore owners Catarina Zaragoza-Dodge and Arthur Dodge said they closed their shop early on Thursday, Aug. 23, mostly because the rain started and downtown Hilo was quiet. Most businesses had already closed in preparation for the storm.
They put sandbags in front of the doorway on Thursday at closing.
“We knew it was likely to flood if we got really heavy rains with no break in between,” they said. “Our shop almost flooded earlier this year, when several other Bayfront businesses flooded during a brief period of severe rain that came in the middle of the day. For our area of Bayfront, if we get a lot of rain really quickly, the storm drains are not able to keep up with the volume of water on the roads, causing the water level on the roads to rise, covering sidewalks and eventually spilling into doorways and shops.”
The owners also pointed out the Bayfront area of Hilo is a low point in town, catching a lot of the water from the streets above, as it funnels down from streets, such as parts of Waianuenue.
Catarina also said they are fortunate because their shop is slightly raised and there is a ramp up to their doorway, elevating the doorway approximately 8 inches above sidewalk level.
“So, it really says something when the water level gets high enough to come into our doorway,” she said.
On Friday morning, they found the store had flooded.
“Most of our neighbors on Kamehameha, Shipman and Wailuku were at their offices and shops with shop vacs and cleaning supplies, mopping up after the flooding at their places, too,” she said.
The sandbags kept out most of the debris, but water encroached into the shop about 50 feet.
The store has waterproof laminate flooring, so even though the water flooded the shop, it wasn’t very deep.
Dodge said the cleanup was quick and easy with squeegees and mops.
Locavore did not lose any inventory due to the way the store is setup, with inventory up on shelves, out of the reach of floodwaters.
“We realize how fortunate we were and grateful that we’d set our shop up the way we did, because it could have been a lot more difficult with more loss,” she said.
While clean up some flooding on Friday morning, one of their vendors came by to drop off produce. He told them how he’d saved a shop he worked in from flooding by screwing a piece of plywood to the bottom half of the doorway and sealing the edges with caulk.
“We took his advice, and boarded and caulked our front door when we left early Friday afternoon,” the owners said. “We still sandbagged the front of our alcove with three layers of sandbags. Right as we were finishing boarding and bagging, the rains started again and worse. We watched the water level rise and slowly work its way over our wall of sandbags and up to the door. We couldn’t do much but wait and watch and see how the plywood and caulk held up.”
The Dodges said, driving home Friday, Kamehameha Avenue was a river and totally underwater.
People were trying to move their cars off of Kamehameha before the water made it impassible. The cross streets, like Waianuenue and Ponahawai, were rushing rivers of water pouring down from upper Hilo—all accumulating on Kamehameha in Bayfront.
“We saw shops on Keawe with water at their doors and rushing over the sandbag walls people had laid out,” the owners said. “We live in an upstairs apartment, so we were lucky that our home was dry —surprisingly,no leaks in our roof!. However, the shops below us all had varying degrees of flooding.”
On Saturday morning, to their surprise, they found Locavore to be bone-dry. The plywood and caulk held.
The store opened Saturday with regular hours of operation.
“It’s good to be back in businesses and we could not be more grateful to have come out fairly unscathed,” the couple said. “We owe Ben a few beers, at least. Our hearts go out to those who didn’t escape the brunt of the flooding or the damage it caused. Hilo is resilient—full of folks willing to help their neighbors and show their support, encouragement and aloha.”
“Despite all the recent natural disasters and events, we feel lucky to live here,” wrote the Dodges.
There were reports of flooding in many downtown locations.
In Kaumana City, large amounts of water was flowing in front of Leilani Smith and Jason Robello’s garage and beginning to flood it. They were able to divert the water off into the yard to prevent any flooding to the garage and home.
Just before midnight on Aug. 23, they discovered that the water was coming from an underground lava tube.
The couple has lived in the Kaumana City home for 10 years and have never experienced anything like this, nor were they aware of the lava tube running through their property.
“Jay actually got his dive mask and light and went under to see how far the tube went from the entrance,” explained Smith. “He said it went pretty deep.”
As of late Sunday, the water was gone and they are now in recovery mode.
The Pe‘epekeo Post Office also reported flood damage and is currently closed until further notice.
All other USPS are open islandwide.
Rain will continue through early next week. Motorists are asked to be careful when traveling on the roads and reminded that closures may occur without any notice.
The National Weather Service forecasts heavy rain and thunderstorms in the area of north and south Kona.
Lane, which was downgraded to a tropical depression on late Friday but resurged as a tropical storm since then, continues moving on a westward path away from the island chain.
Attention is now on Tropical Storm Miriam, but it is too soon to say if Miriam is will impact Hawai‘i weather.
To report damage to roads, contact the Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Emergency Operating Center at (808) 935-0031.