HAENA, Kauai — At the northwest tip of Kauai, where the highway leads to Kee beach — otherwise known as the end of the road — locals have introduced a new name for Hanalei, the closest actual town. They call it “The Mainland.”
It seems so far away.
And it is so quiet here. So peacefully quiet.
That’s because since the worst recorded storm in Kauai history pelted the North Shore for 48 hours beginning April 13, the highway has been largely blocked. Only within the last few days have residents of the Lumahai, Wainiha and Haena neighborhoods been able to join 5 mph escorted convoys to get to and from their homes a few times a day.
Three spots on the highway are so seriously damaged it will be months before anything approaching normal traffic can resume. The road shows serious scars where it has been washed away by boulders loosened by the intense rain — perhaps more than 50 inches in Hanalei — which carved new drainage channels in the landscape. One area where the road largely collapsed is so big it dwarfs nearby houses in size.
The state Department of Transportation will probably have to create new culverts over streams where none existed and it will require weeks of work to stabilize the hillsides, which continue to drop soil and rock down onto devastated portions of the road.
Kuhio Highway — usually a tourist mob scene strewn with illegally parked rental cars — is simply a nearly deserted country lane where children skateboard and ride their bikes at will and families reclaim visitation rights to places long ago surrendered to visitors. You’d think that without ready access to shopping and jobs, there would be a tense air of desperation.
But you’d be oh, so wrong …
As was observed in Anahola and Hanalei, the immediate aftermath of the storm took on the look of a beehive as people, tools and equipment materialized as if from nowhere without waiting for any organized government agency to ride to the rescue.
Larry Dill, the DOT’s head engineer for Kauai, chuckled at the number of small excavation machines that had appeared and swarmed to form a massive ad hoc road clearance project before state crews could even get through with heavier equipment.
A ride from Hanalei to Kee on Mother’s Day found families reveling in the solitude and quiet, feeling as if they’d finally been able to recapture a place and a sense of community some of them said has been largely absent for decades.
Stopping on her daily bike ride near a large washed out part of the beach, Kathy Valier, said the Kee of the moment is about the same place she recalls when she first visited it as a little girl 60 years ago. Congestion and sheer numbers of humans present on the land had become so pronounced, she said, that “we felt we had lost things that used to be ours.”
In the small roadside cold pond on Limahuli Stream, several families gathered in the water, shared food and hung out in the middle of the highway in the style that, locals said, was simply normal in the days before Kee and environs became a featured destination in travel brochures.
One mother driving by in a pickup was told that the temporary satellite school opened at the Hanalei Colony Resort would be closing in a few days since buses can now reach the area. This was not good news. “But the kids love it,” she exclaimed.
Rich Blair, another longtime local resident, said the storm and its aftermath have created an unforeseen opportunity to regain control over what has seemed to many like a literal invasion of visitors.
“The North Shore we knew had been taken from us,” he said as he mingled mid-highway with other families.
His gripe is commonplace on the North Shore. Of the seven members of the County Council, none lives anywhere close to the area most affected by the storm. Of the seven, he said, only JoAnn Yukimura and Derek Kawakami have paid more than visits in passing. Residents feel their community has been sacrificed to the need to keep propelling tourist revenues.
They had watched this happen with a growing sense of helplessness until the storm came. Now, said Blair, with the weather having intervened, there may be hope that fixing the damage may include reviving the sense of community that many feel had been lost.
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