On Monday, Courtney McLaughlin found her beat-up bedside table high in the boughs of a hau bush.

She located her childhood photographs, tattered and wet, on the Anahola bridge in a pile of muck.

But she was unsuccessful in her attempts to recapture her pet, Rossco. The cat, spooked by cracking thunder, had jetted into the jungle over the weekend as raging floodwaters swept across her 3-acre property, destroying the homestead she had shared with her boyfriend.

The couple, who own the property, had just moved onto the land April 1.

The Anahola steam deluged the homestead Courtney McLaughlin shares with her boyfriend on Kauai’s northeast shore. On Tuesday the couple said they found bits of their property — books, clothes, photographs — as far as a mile from their home. Courtesy of Courtney McLaughlin

“It was what we wanted for the rest of our life — to be able to build something from scratch that was ours and have our own place to grow and live the way that we wanted,” said McLaughlin, a 29-year-old wedding coordinator.

“We wanted to have an orchard and aquaponics and get some chickens and have a family. It was the next step. And now it’s gone. I mean, our bed is gone. I actually picked up one of my shirts out of the mud. It’s so surreal that everything that we had is now just part of the land.”

On the heels of a record-setting storm, which dumped 28 inches of rain in 24 hours, Kauai residents whose neighborhoods were ravaged by flooding, landslides and sinkholes Saturday and Sunday started to come to terms with the idea that portions of the island’s landscape had been dramatically, and perhaps irreparably, changed.

Emergency rescue crews have so far evacuated nearly 350 people by helicopter, 121 by bus and others by water, according to Kauai County. Impassable sinkholes and more than a dozen landslides amounting to thousands of pounds of mud and debris continue to make travel by car impossible on some stretches of the North Shore. Many residents remain stranded without running water. 

Those who were evacuated were warned that it was uncertain when they would be able to return home.

There were no reports of major injuries.

“Someone was looking over us,” said Kauai Fire Capt. Kurt Leong. “We pulled a lady out of one of the three houses that collapsed in Hanalei just as it was falling. Our engine almost got hit by a landslide. We were rescuing people off the roofs of their home. It took out mountainsides.

“This has rattled people to the core and it’s going to take some feats of engineering to get back to semi-normalcy.”

Public health officials warned residents to avoid the standing water, which could be swirling with chemicals, flood debris, dead animals and toxic overflow from cesspools.

“There’s nothing good about what happened, but one thing is it’s going to make people see that you can’t just build a house wherever you want,” Leong said. “In a Hawaiian sense, I think it’s going to make people think twice. This isn’t a place you can bring your money to and display your wealth. You have to be at peace with this place and with the land if you’re going to build here and call this home.”

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