The weather has improved somewhat, but search and rescue missions continue this morning in East Hawaii as county officials begin to mop up from damage caused by Hurricane Lane, which dumped more than 42 inches on rain in some Hilo neighborhoods since the system first approached the island.
Lane has been downgraded to a tropical storm and nearly all major roadways are open, but Hawaii National Guard helicopters are on standby to help two Hawaii Fire Department choppers in the search for people in homes or vehicles who have been stranded by the rising flood waters, state and county officials said.
As flooding intensified Friday night and early Saturday morning in East Hawaii, police urged motorists to stay off the road, but not everyone obeyed those urgent instructions. More than 20 people were rescued overnight and in the early morning hours, but there were no reports of injuries, said Fire Department Battalion Chief Kazuo Todd.
Lane dumped an astonishing volume of rain on some East Hawaii neighborhoods. The National Weather Service reported rainfall totalled 42.81 inches in the Hilo neighborhood of Waiakea Uka from noon Wednesday until 9 p.m. Friday.
Piihonua in Hilo received 42.69 inches during the same period, and Mountain View in Upper Puna was swamped with 36.49 inches. The Hilo airport saw 25.34 inches of rain during that period.
“Can you imagine if this was Kona?” asked Mayor Harry Kim at a civil defense briefing this morning. “Can you imagine if this was Maui? Can you imagine if this was Oahu? What I will discuss with them is the rainfall that we experienced is typical of a hurricane that stalls, and the rest of the counties had better learn from us.”
“We’re fortunate. It’s unfortunate for those people in East Hawaii, but fortunate that this occurred…where we can handle it, we’re not picking up bodies this morning,” he said.
Lane is expected to deposit yet another 5 to 10 inches of rain on the islands in the days ahead, with at least some of that rain expected to continue to drench Hawaii island.
Kim said the county will launch into a formal damage assessment later, but for now will focus on any remaining rescue operations that may be necessary. In the meantime, Kim said he will ask Gov. David Ige to declare that Hawaii County qualifies for emergency funding to help with the recovery.
“Thank you for your work,” Kim told state and county officials gathered at county Civil Defense headquarters in Hilo this morning. “Man, oh man, oh man, was that a lot of water.”
County fire crews responded to a series of calls for help from people stranded in vehicles Friday night and this morning, including two people who were trapped in a vehicle between a landslide and rushing water at Kolekole Park Friday afternoon.
Three people trapped in a Ford F150 on Moho Road in the Hawaiian Acres subdivision, and another four people were rescued from a vehicle trapped at North Ala Road in Upper Puna after midnight, fire officials said.
In several cases Hawaii National Guard vehicles and crews had to be called in to help because fire department vehicles could not navigate the flood waters to reach the stranded motorists, Todd said.
Another dozen people had to be rescued from a flooded home in the Keaau Agricultural Lots subdivision shortly after 10 p.m. Friday, Todd said.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said the weather is expected to improve.
“We’re gonna be wet I think until early next week. It shouldn’t be as intense as it has been,” he said. “The weather service seem to think it’s going to be OK, just we’re not going to be dried out right away.”