HILO, Hawaii Island – Patches of blue sky that appeared all too briefly over parts of East Hawaii on Saturday morning gave windward residents a break from the foot-a-day downpours that Tropical Storm Lane has been unleashing on them.
There have been no reports of major injuries, and the island was spared wind and surf-related damage, Hawaii County officials said. Still, Lane left its mark, and it may not be done.
A flash flood warning for windward areas extending from Hawi to South Point was in effect until 11 p.m., with the National Weather Service reporting shortly before noon that heavy rain was moving over already saturated areas of Lower Puna and South Hilo. Rainfall levels hovered around an inch and hour, according to the NWS.
This photo provided by Jessica Henricks shows storm-related flooding and damage Friday near Hilo.
Also in effect was a high surf advisory for east-facing shores.
“Over the last 24 hours, 39 more people were rescued,” said Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency spokeswoman Kelly Wooten. That’s in addition to the 13 people previously taken to safety from the Reed’s Island and Piihonua areas of Hilo, along with two hikers airlifted from remote Waimanu Valley, she said.
One of those rescued was Hilo resident Margaret Almada-Collins, who called for help from her Piihonua home at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. First responders equipped with ropes were unable to reach her until several hours later, she said.
Margaret Almada-Collins assesses the structural damage to her Piihonua home in upper Hilo on Saturday. She had to be rescued from the dwelling after it flooded at 2:30 a.m. Thursday.
Jason Armstrong/Civil Beat
“They said, ‘You have to hunker down in place until things subside,’” she said Saturday as family and friends were cleaning mud and waterlogged possessions from her home.
“The front door was bucking,” Almada-Collins recalled of the dangerous conditions she encountered, adding the water was about waist-high due to a clogged stream located adjacent to her property.
She refrained from opening that door.
“I would not have been able to stand up. It would have taken me into the (Wailuku) River,” Almada-Collins said of the raging torrent about 100 feet from her home that lacks flood insurance to cover the extensive damage.
Rescues occurred throughout windward East Hawaii, with several people having been removed from vehicles trapped on Highway 130 in Puna, Highway 11 south of Hilo and elsewhere by rising waters and flood debris, Wooten said.
“There were numerous other calls about flooding where it wasn’t really necessary for them to get extracted,” she said.
Water levels prevented first responders from reaching four members of a family trapped in Mountain View, Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe said Saturday.
The family had to shelter in place overnight, Wooten said.
“I don’t think they need help anymore,” she said Saturday morning, adding water levels had receded by then.
This photo provided by Jessica Henricks shows flooding Thursday on the Wailuku River near Hilo.
The island has endured three straight days of nearly nonstop downpours. The break on Saturday allowed road crews to reopen three major roadways that were closed Friday night, the last of which was Highway 11 in the low-lying Kawa area of Kau, police said.
Overnight Friday, the wettest areas continued to be Hilo and Pahala, each of which received another foot of rain during the 24-hour period that ended at 10 a.m. Saturday, the National Weather Service reported.
That brought Lane’s three-day rainfall totals to more than 40 inches in several windward areas, topping out at more than 45 inches — just shy of 4 feet — in the upper Hilo area of Waiakea Uka, according to the NWS.
The Big Island hasn’t seen that volume of precipitation since November 2000, when 39 inches fell on Pahala. Most of that occurred overnight, however, in what was labeled a 100-year flood.
By comparison, the notoriously wet city of Seattle receives an average of 37.5 inches of rain per year, according to Wikipedia.
Family and friends help clean flood debris from Margaret Almada-Collins’ Hilo home Saturday.
Jason Armstrong/Civil Beat
Big Island motorists were urged to drive with caution.
As of 9:50 a.m., Hilo’s four-lane Kamehameha Avenue, Bayfront Highway and numerous secondary roads, including South Point Road in Kau, remained closed, Civil Defense said.
At noon, there was a one-lane closure to Highway 11 near Volcano, prompting road crews to install a temporary traffic light to aid motorists’ safety, Civil Defense reported in its latest update.
The Hawaii National Guard already had 120 personnel on Hawaii Island from the Kilauea eruptions. Mayor Harry Kim requested that they remain because of the storm, Hawaii National Guard Maj. Jeff Hickman told Civil Beat.
Guardsmen assisted in rescuing four people from a home Friday night and have been on standby since.
Hickman said Hawaii and Maui counties will most likely ask for disaster assessment services in the coming days. To prepare, the National Guard took helicopters out of their hangars on Oahu Saturday morning to await deployment.
“We’re postured. We’re leaning forward,” Hickman said. “We’re ready for when those requests may come.”
Civil Beat reporting fellow Blaze Lovell contributed to this report.
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Jason Armstrong has reported extensively for both of Hawaii Island’s daily newspapers. He was a public information officer/grant writer for the Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation from 2012 to 2016 and has lived in Hilo since 1987. Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org