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Hawaii News

Water rips through home, traps family in Keaau

  • COURTESY OF LOU-ANN TOLENTINO

    Hawaii County firefighters aided in the rescue of Lou-Ann Tolentino and her family Friday night after flood waters trapped them at their home in the Keaau Agricultural Lots subdivision.

  • TIM WRIGHT / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

    The garage back door of the Tolentino home was blocked by debris and household items.

  • TIM WRIGHT / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

    A Ford Mustang and other debris sat along the front fence of the Tolentino family’s home on Saturday.

HILO >> The Ford Mustang parked in the front yard was picked up, spun around and slammed into the front fence. Flood waters Friday night from Tropical Storm Lane washed tree trunks into the carport, pounding them into the wood siding of the home with a sound like thunder. Old tires, tree branches and a battered metal pig trap washed up in a huge tangle that blocked the carport steps.

When the river of water reached more than 4-feet high above the concrete floor of the carport, Lou-Ann Tolentino and her family fled to the second floor of her sister’s Keaau home and called for help.

“We couldn’t get out anywhere,” said Tolentino, 54. Family members had to push debris away from the carport door just to reach the stairs. “We had little ones, so we got them to the second floor and stayed there, and then we called for fire and rescue.”

Tolentino and her children had been staying temporarily with her sister at the home in the Keaau Agricultural Lots subdivision in Puna. The family had just finished dinner, and “because it was raining so heavy and it was thundering and there was lightning, we couldn’t tell the difference, but you could hear the water just rushing.”

During the 2000 flood, she said a few feet of water did wash into the carport of the house, but it had never flowed like a river into the home, and no one could remember a flood like this. “The current was extremely strong,” and the floodwaters sounded like the pounding of river rapids from a television show, she said.

Tolentino’s sister Lea Ferreira, 50, arrived with her husband Rilan in time to watch the rescue from the street.

“When we first came, they were all up in the window looking out,” Lea Ferreira said. “When we first came, I was bawl-crying, like ‘Oh my God, how are we going to get them out?’ It was just, to see them up there with no way to get out.”

“It was amazing. When we came, the water was so high we just couldn’t believe it,” Ferreira said.

Lea Ferreira praised the county firefighters, who tied a rope to the house and the other end to a tree in the yard for the evacuees to hold. The six adults and five children put on life vests, and climbed through the kitchen window to escape from the house.

“We jumped into the water, and then they took us one by one up to the hill,” Tolentino said. The children went first, including two 5-year-olds, a 7-year-old and two 11-year-olds.

“The children, the smaller ones, they thought it was hilarious. They were enjoying the ride, you know?” Lea Ferreira said.

The Tolentinos stayed at the Ferreiras’ home in Hilo, and returned to Keaau Saturday morning to survey the damage. The flooding had deposited someone’s rooftop solar panel in the carport along with mounds of debris that lined the carport walls.

Rainfall data for Keaau was unavailable, but a rain gauge in Mountain View 7 miles away recorded 46.93 inches of rainfall from noon on Wednesday to noon on Saturday.

The neighbors’ riding lawnmower had washed downstream into the Tolentinos’ yard, and debris had piled up against their 40-yard front fence line in an impressive pile that included wooden shelving, an old cooler, a huge tree trunk, and pieces of sheet metal.

In the middle of the jumbled heap on the fenceline was a chunky black metal Sentry Safe that was locked up tight, prompting speculation about the valuables that might be inside, and whether anyone would be along to claim it.

“Must be from somewhere up there,” shrugged Rilan Ferreira, gesturing up the slope to homes more than 100 yards away.

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