- Special Projects
The lone road to the farthest reaches of Kauai’s North Shore, ravaged by an epic mid-April storm, is not expected to reopen to normal vehicular traffic until late July or early August.
The timeline, set by Hawaii transportation officials, was revealed in a request to President Donald Trump for federal disaster assistance signed Wednesday by Gov. David Ige.
The request gives the most detailed snapshot to date of the extent of damage on Kauai.
“This disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments,” Ige said. “Federal assistance is necessary.”
On the heels of the national record-setting storm that dumped 49.7 inches of rain in 24 hours, the communities of Wainiha and Haena continue to be isolated by more than a dozen landslides along a two-mile stretch of Kuhio Highway.
More than 475 people have been evacuated by helicopter from the areas hardest hit by flooding, crumbling cliff faces and sinkholes. Residents who have chosen to stay in the isolated area lack access to a post office, school, hospital, grocery store or gas station.
No one was severely injured in the April 14-15 deluge. But the extraordinary rainfall has left behind damaged homes, cost people jobs and temporarily crippled the local tourism industry.
In the report, the governor cites $19 million worth of storm damage on Kauai and, to a lesser extent, on Oahu.
But this preliminary cost assessment does not include highway and roadway damage, or economic costs to businesses and residents.
As efforts to rebuild the Kuhio Highway continue, state transportation officials have set a short-term goal to clear the landslides and make the road as resilient as possible for the next 20 to 30 years. The state is seeking reimbursement for these highway recovery efforts through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief program.
But with the threat of sea level rise and coastal erosion increasing, the only way to ensure the historic highway’s long-term survival is to relocate it by tunneling into the mountain or some other feat of engineering.
This stretch of highway, particularly the segment along Waikoko Beach, has already been identified as a vulnerable road in the state’s forthcoming $15 billion plan to protect the state’s low-lying coastal highways from the effects of climate change — namely a rising ocean.
All told, 527 primary residences were damaged statewide, including more than 340 on Kauai. Of these, seven homes were ripped off their foundations or otherwise destroyed.
On Oahu, 600 tons of debris covered roads, and flooding closed the main road through East Honolulu, according to the report.
The report notes the difficulties of finding places for the newly homeless families to relocate. As of 2015, the rental housing vacancy rate in Hawaii was about 1 percent.
Without federal support, families will likely be forced to leave their tight-knit communities or become homeless, the report states.
On Kauai, the state anticipates that more than 132 of the damaged homes have no insurance coverage.
In addition to losing their homes, some residents have lost their vehicles and possessions, including family heirlooms and vital records such as driver licenses and birth certificates. Families have also lost pets that drowned in the floodwaters.
U.S. Army helicopter crews have so far delivered 43,000 pounds of food, water and clothing to those isolated by landslides and road damage.
Some residents are displaying signs of post-traumatic stress. The state has deployed a mental health worker to the isolated communities after receiving several reports of unmet mental health needs.
More than 260 people have been treated for mental and physical health issues, such as injuries and infections, at a temporary clinic assembled in a hotel resort that has become a makeshift community hub. Two patients treated for advanced allergies likely related to mold exposure have been evacuated out of the isolated area.
From Hanalei to Haena, business owners dependent on tourists are bracing for a sustained financial slump. More than 85 vacation rentals remain unable to accommodate their current bookings. Foot traffic and spending in Hanalei has taken a nose-dive.
Some restaurants and shops have endured so much flood damage that they’ve been forced to lay off their entire staff. Other businesses are open, but managers are slashing workers’ hours and shifts to match a steep slump in tourism traffic.
The owners of the Dolphin Restaurant, Hanalei’s largest employer, have been forced to lay off 110 employees. They do not anticipate reopening until July 1, according to the governor’s report.
A pair of popular tourist destinations have also been shuttered: Limahuli Garden and Preserve and the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park. Within the state park, the Kalalau Trail has been closed indefinitely. Teetering high along Kauai’s legendary undeveloped coast, the 11-mile trail is the main reason some hiking enthusiasts come to Kauai.
The road to Black Pot Beach, a primary access point to Hanalei Bay and Hanalei Pier, also remains closed.
Farmers are still surveying damage to crops, machinery and buildings.
But on Oahu, Nalo Farms reported that torrential rains put the entire farm under four feet of water, destroying the entire crop. The farm provides produce to more than 80 local restaurants and stores. A state agricultural damage assessment is forthcoming.
Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to email@example.com and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.