WAILUKU >> Tropical Storm Olivia made history Wednesday as the first such storm to make landfall on Maui in modern times.
Thankfully for residents and visitors on the Valley Isle, it was a brief and not particularly hard landing.
“We were tremendously fortunate,” said Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa. “When you look at the intensity of the storm and the damage that we might have had, we were very fortunate.”
There were a few road closures from landslides or flooding, power outages that affected about 8,000 customers during parts of the day and evacuations of several homes because swollen rivers threatened them.
Overall though, there were no injury reports and Maui ducked what could have been deadly and widespread catastrophic effects from Olivia’s direct hit on the island.
More precisely, it was Olivia’s course that ended up crossing near the northern tip of Maui that spared the island from worse damage. That’s because more intense winds for Central Pacific hurricanes occur on the north side of a storm. So the worst of Olivia was blowing out to sea north of Maui.
Really heavy rains also were pulsing to the north and northeast of Olivia’s center away from Maui, according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center.
The center of Olivia made landfall at 9:10 a.m. near Kahakuloa near the northern-most point on the island and about 10 miles northwest of Kahului, according to the National Weather Service. After a relatively quick pass, the storm’s center made landfall on the unpopulated northeast coast of Lanai about 6 miles north- northeast of Lanai City.
Hurricane Center meteorologist Matthew Foster said the landfall on Maui was the first for a tropical storm in the modern era with records.
Robert Ballard, science and operations officer with the Hurricane Center, explained in a tweet Wednesday that the place a storm makes landfall doesn’t necessarily get the worst impacts.
“In a weaker, disorganized system like this (Olivia), the worst conditions are not likely to be where the storm makes landfall, they will be off to the north of the center,” he explained.
For much of Olivia’s approach to Hawaii, the storm’s projected path jumped across different parts of Maui, including lines on the southern end of the island, which made it more difficult to anticipate impacts.
“This storm is just so erratic,” said Maui County Managing Director Keith Regan. “It’s going south, it’s going west, it’s going southwest, it’s going north. It’s been so hard to predict.”
Rain from Olivia also was unpredictable, leaving some areas with blue skies and sun during the day.
“It’s kind of a strange pattern because it’s sort of swirling almost like you would see in a cyclone- type of situation,” Arakawa said during a midday state briefing by phone. “It can be very prominent at one point, and then 15 minutes later it’ll clear up and you’ve got blue skies, and then it will repeat. It seems to be moving kind of sporadically over the island with different levels of rainfall.”
The most rainfall during a 24-hour period through 4 p.m. Wednesday on Maui occurred in West Wailuaiki between Haiku and Hana with 9 inches, according to the Weather Service. About 8 inches fell in Iao Valley at Puu Kukui. Only 3 inches fell at Kahukuloa where the storm made landfall.
As for wind, the highest gusts for Maui County were recorded at 48 mph at Kalaupapa on Molokai and 47 mph on the north side of Lanai.
One of the worst instances of reported damage was to a home built on the banks of the Waihee River on Maui’s windward side. The river destroyed much of a retaining wall connected to the home, which had to be evacuated.
“Every time (rain) comes down heavy, it takes out a piece of land,” said Austin Rodrigues, whose family owns property along the river that descends from the West Maui Mountains.
On another side of the same mountain range, above Kapalua, a stream leading to Honolua Bay topped a bridge along Honoapiilani Highway. Nearby resident John Carty said he had never seen such a thing in the 15 years he’s lived next to the stream.
Carty said he wasn’t sure the concrete bridge would hold.
“That was the big scary moment,” he said.
The bridge did hold, and the floodwaters subsided not long after the approximately 2 p.m. incident in which a state Department of Transportation crew was on the scene to manage the situation.
Sean Boffeli, a visitor from Florida who arrived on Maui Tuesday, took a photo of the stream with brown rushing water and said the storm wasn’t as bad as he expected. “We thought it would be really rainy, but it wasn’t bad at all,” he said.
At a little past noon, a group of eight visitors from Poland decided to leave an emergency shelter at Maui High School after spending Tuesday night there. The group sought shelter because their original plan was to be camping.
Emilia Mackowiak, 27, said the group was heading off to camp Wednesday night. “We are not scared,” she said.
Maui Electric Co. reported that as of 2 p.m. about 7,900 customers in parts of Upcountry and East Maui, and on Molokai were without power, including about 6,800 customers in the Upcountry and East Maui areas and about 1,100 customers in Kalaupapa and East and West Molokai. But by 7 p.m., power had been restored to all but 800 homes, including 100 on Maui and 700 on Molokai.
By 5 p.m. the Hurricane Center had canceled Maui’s tropical storm warning, though a flash flood warning was extended to at least 7:15 p.m.