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Kauai Mayor Kawakami is prioritizing restoring access to island’s north shore

  • VIDEO COURTESY HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

    A major landslide on Kuhio Highway has cut off access to Kauai's north shore.

  • STAR-ADVERTISER
                                Kauai Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami joined other neighbor island mayors in going before state lawmakers to explain their legislative requests, in Jan. 2020.

    STAR-ADVERTISER

    Kauai Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami joined other neighbor island mayors in going before state lawmakers to explain their legislative requests, in Jan. 2020.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said Tuesday is still the earliest that Kauai county can restore access to its battered North Shore community, which was cut off by a mudslide following heavy rains.

And, that’s only if the rain stops long enough to get the job done. The National Weather Service cancelled a flash flood warning for Kauai this morning; however, Kauai, along with the rest of the state, remains under a flash flood watch through 6 a.m. Saturday.

Radar at 8:51 a.m. showed heavy rainfall moving over Kauai from the southwest at rates up to 1 inch per hour, according to the National Weather Service.

A more intense band of rainfall with rain falling at rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour is approaching the island from the west, weather officials said. The band should reach the west side of the island with an hour and move across the island.

Kawakami said Kuhio Highway, at Hanalei Hill approaching the Hanalei Bridge, will remain closed through at least Tuesday until Kauai Emergency Management officials can safely assess the amount of damage, conduct debris removal and stabilize the slopes.

“The damage is major damage,” said Kawakami said, who was fresh from surveying the emergency area. “Per the Department of Transportation it looks like in a best-case scenario Tuesday, but that is in ideal conditions with no work disruptions. We’re currently monitoring the weather very, very closely that area is till very, very saturated. There is significant ponding on the highway as we speak — so it’s quite dangerous.”

Kawakami said officials are “working on greasing the skids for federal and state support” and they are seeking “alternative modes of transportation.”

The current situation is another blow for the region, which had been gearing up for a broader reopening of tourism on Kauai, when the county rejoins the state’s Safe Travels Hawaii program.

“They are looking forward to April 5 as a return to Safe Travels so we have to work carefully to see how we can continue to have commerce in that area because this is going to be a prolonged project,” he said. “We may be able to open up access, but it’s going to be limited in slope.”

The current crisis is similar to the April 2018 landslide in Wainiha that shut down the same highway and forced residents and businesses to live under a convoy system that restricted access to the region for 14 months. While some welcomed the break from tourism, it was devastating for tourism-dependent businesses and workers.

This latest mudslide wiped clean a wide swath of the vegetation from the cliffside just below the roadway of the upper portion of the highway straight down to a lower section of the highway, landing in a hill of mud completely blocking the road.

First responders will continue to be able to get to the community by boat and helicopter for emergency calls, the county said. Food is available at stores and food pantries in the areas affected, and the county is working on coordinating a system to bring in more food and medical supplies for the community as needed.

Kauai Island Utility Cooperative members from Hanalei to Haena have been told to prepare for extended periods without power if outages should occur while the highway remains closed

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