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East Hawaii begins to mop up after Lane

  • TIM WRIGHT / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

    Catatina Lay, left, removed items from her flooded pantry at her Keaau Agricultural Lots rental home on Saturday. She and her husband Richard Lay Jr. retreated to the second floor when water inundated the home’s ground floor.At right, Darla Hartvigsen helped sweep mud from the flooded kitchen of her neighbor’s home in Puna Saturday.

HILO >> The weather in East Hawaii improved somewhat Saturday, but search and rescue missions continued as homeowners and county officials began to mop up from damage caused by Hurricane Lane, which dumped more than 46 inches of rain in some Hilo neighborhoods since the weather system first approached the island.

Lane was downgraded to a tropical storm and most major roadways in East Hawaii are open, but a flash flood warning remained in effect for East Hawaii from Hawi to Hilo to South Point on Saturday.

Lingering moisture associated with Tropical Storm Lane will produce “excessive rainfall this weekend” totalling 5 to 10 inches on Hawaii island and Maui, and could lead to additional flash flooding and landslides, according to the National Weather Service. Rainfall of 3 to 5 inches is expected elsewhere in the state.

Hawaii National Guard helicopters were on standby Saturday 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, but the last rescue was completed before 6 a.m. Saturday, state and county officials said.

“Thank you for your work,” Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim told state and county officials gathered at county Civil Defense headquarters in Hilo Saturday morning. “Man, oh man, oh man, was that a lot of water.”

Among other problems, the deluge of rainfall flowing into the county sewer system overwhelmed three sewage pumping stations, triggering three major spills around Hilo Bay.

The Pua Sewer Pump station at Puhi Bay spilled 5.9 million gallons of untreated sewage offshore before the problem was brought under control at 4:40 p.m. Saturday, and the Wailuku Sewer Pump Station near the Wailuku River released 2.6 million gallons before the problem was fixed at 8:15 a.m. Saturday, county officials said.

The Paukaa Sewer Pump Station released another 784,000 gallons of untreated sewage before the problem was fixed at 9 a.m. Saturday, according to the county Department of Environmental Management.

County spokeswoman Janet Snyder said the helicopter surveys Saturday identified two structures in the Puna subdivision of Hawaiian Acres that were essentially destroyed by flooding last week. One house was on 7th Street, and the other was on 38th Street, she said.

Teams began work Saturday on preliminary damage assessments, and planned to expand that effort on Monday, Snyder said.

More rain expected

Lane dumped an astonishing volume of rain on some East Hawaii neighborhoods last week, and apparently isn’t quite finished yet.

The National Weather Service reported rainfall totalled 46.35 inches in the Hilo neighborhood of Waiakea Uka from noon on Wednesday until noon on Saturday.

Piihonua in Hilo received 44.98 inches during the same period, and Mountain View in Upper Puna was swamped with 46.93 inches. Pahoa saw 24.49 inches of rain during that period.

“We’re gonna be wet, I think, until early next week. It shouldn’t be as intense as it has been,” said Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno. “The weather service seems to think it’s going to be OK, just we’re not going to be dried out right away.”

The cleanup

In the hard-hit Keaau Agricultural Lots subdivision in Puna, Richard Lay Jr. and his wife Catatina were just beginning the huge job of cleaning up the first floor of their flood-damaged rented home.

Water poured into their house Friday evening and rose steadily to the level of the third step in their stairwell, extensively damaging the downstairs living room, kitchen, office, and a spare bedroom. Couches, entertainment center, kitchen table, desk, a bed — all destroyed.

Richard Lay came home to find the flooding well underway, and saved a computer, some important papers and a cat named Klhoe by moving them all upstairs. Keepsakes such as his late father’s yearbooks and papers were destroyed. Among his other lost possessions were power tools, a compressor, a generator and other equipment that was stored in the garage.

The couple finally retreated upstairs at 7 p.m., and the water climbed to a point just below the handle on the front door by 9 p.m. “The total bottom is ruined,” said Catatina Ray, 45. The water did not begin to retreat until a chain link fence in the back yard that was covered with debris finally broke at about 9:30 p.m., releasing floodwater into the next property.

“It sounded like a river,” Catatina Ray said. “I listened to it until about 2:30. I stayed up and kind of kept an eye on it, and watched the water line recede, and then go back up, and then recede.”

Feeling fortunate

Mayor Kim said the state was fortunate that Hurricane Lane did not do more damage. “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,” Kim said at a morning briefing.

“Can you imagine if this was Kona?” Kim asked emergency workers at the briefing. “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.”

Kim said the county will compile a formal damage assessment later, but on Saturday was focused on any remaining rescue operations. 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.

“Generally speaking, you would wait until the assessment is kind of finished, but we’re still in search and rescue mode … I do know there’s a lot of roadways and bridges that were damaged,” Kim said.

Highway 19, the major route between Hilo and Waimea, was closed at 3 p.m. Saturday at Kaawalii Gulch to allow crews to remove a dangerous boulder, and one lane of Highway 11 near Volcano Village was closed to allow crews to repair earthquake and flood damage.

As flooding intensified Friday night and early Saturday morning in East Hawaii, police urged motorists to stay off the road, but not everyone obeyed. 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.

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.

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