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Hawaii News

Flight disruptions leave Maui visitors unsettled

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Video by Christie Wilson
Hurricane Lane causes visitors on Maui to stay at hurricane shelter.
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Simon Benoit, 26, and Marianne Deneault, 23, of Montreal, spent their Maui vacation camping but slept at the American Red Cross shelter at Maui High School in Kahului Wednesday and Thursday following hurricane warnings. The couple’s United flight scheduled to leave Friday night for San Francisco was canceled and they were uncertain when they would be able to return home.

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Driftwood on Makawao Avenue in Upcountry Maui was one of many shops in the former paniolo town that put up plywood panels for protection from Hurricane Lane.

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Oh Baby! boutique owner Jeanette Dyckman was holding out hope for customers.

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Carl Gardner, 29, left, and Raul Pacheco, 38, checked the swells at McGregor Point near Maalaea, Maui, Thursday morning. In the background, storm clouds moved in from the east on Haleakala.

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The Whole Foods Market in Kahului, armored with plywood panels, was one of the few stores open on Maui Thursday as Hurricane Lane drew closer to the island.

KAHULUI >> As Hurricane Lane continued its agonizingly slow approach toward Hawaii, an untold number of Maui visitors scrambled Thursday to deal with storm-related impacts that included canceled flights and closed parks, beaches, shops and restaurants.

United Airlines announced just before noon Thursday that it was canceling all Friday flights to and from Maui in anticipation of Lane’s arrival. The airline said it scheduled two additional flights from Honolulu to San Francisco on Thursday and reduced fares for all flights departing Hawaii.

United is also waiving change fees for customers with original travel dates between now and Sunday. Hawaiian Airlines canceled all Friday flights by its commuter carrier, Ohana by Hawaiian, and is offering a similar waiver on change fees.

On any given day there are approximately 40,000 visitors on Maui. It was not known how many are affected by the flight disruptions or how many could find themselves lacking accommodations as Lane sweeps by.

Janet Kuwahara, senior manager of operations at the Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau, said Thursday the organization had not received any calls from frantic tourists worried about being unable to return home. She said she was confident the island’s hotels and resorts will make room for anyone who finds themselves without accommodations.

“I have been emailing the general managers to find out their availability (of rooms) and how many people they may have, but no one has been calling for a place to stay,” she said.

Since no flights will be arriving today with fresh planeloads of visitors, “it will be kind of a wash. I think we’ll be fine.”

A handful of tourists anxious about leaving Maui have been showing up at the American Red Cross shelter at Maui High School in Kahului, just a few minutes’ drive to the airport.

Sarah Smith, 41, of Vancouver, British Columbia, and her mother, Nancy Saulnier, had United reservations to fly out Thursday night but decided to register at the shelter earlier in the day because of the storm’s unpredictability.

“If it’s delayed or there’s no flight, we’re hunkering down at the shelter,” Smith said. “It’s safer to be over here than in Kihei, where we might not be able to get out if the roads are closed.”

Although their Maui vacation ended with the hurricane threat, Smith said their stay “was fantastic — until a couple days ago.”

“The people and the hospitality here are amazing,” said Smith as her eyes filled with tears. “When you travel different places, people are not that friendly. But Hawaii is amazing.”

Marianne Deneault and Simon Benoit of Montreal were camping when they got the hurricane alert and went to the Kahului shelter Wednesday. The couple were scheduled to leave tonight for San Francisco and didn’t know their United flight had been canceled.

Benoit, 26, they would “go with the flow” and hope for the best while staying safe and dry at the Red Cross shelter.

“We’ll stay here so my mom doesn’t worry,” he said.

Deneault, 23, said the upheaval in their travel plans would “absolutely not” leave a bad mark on their Maui visit. “We had a great time here. It’s exciting, it’s so cool,” she said, referring to the impending hurricane.

“It’s like an adventure,” Benoit said. “We know we’ll be safe. We know it’s going to turn, and we hope everyone will be OK.”

Although Maui had yet to feel the full force of Hurricane Lane, East Maui roads were taking a beating, as they often do during stormy weather, with high stream flows, landslides and other hazards. Three roads in the Hana area were closed, but all other roads on the island were open, according to Mayor Alan Arakawa.

During a Thursday press conference, Arakawa warned residents of a rash of inaccurate reports and “rumors” about storm conditions circulating on social media. These include reports of scheduled water system shutdowns in specific areas and road closures — all “absolutely false,” Arakawa said.

He advised Maui County residents to stay at home or in a shelter and stay off the roads. County officials said the Uber ride-hailing service was offering free transportation to Red Cross shelters.

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