HANA, Maui – It took the threat of a major hurricane for Hana folks to get their town back – temporarily.

For the first time in many residents’ memory the narrow, bumpy Hana Highway running straight through the heart of town was empty of nearly all but local cars. Usually the 52-mile stretch from Kahului to Hana town, and farther beyond another bone-jarring, twisting 10 miles to Haleakala National Park’s Kipahulu District, is nose-to-tail tourist traffic. Park officials estimate roughly a million people annually visit the park.

The approach of Hurricane Lane prompted dozens of tour operators to cancel fleets of buses and vans that travel 24-7 to East Maui, each one crammed with sightseers lured by hyped images of visiting a  “tropical paradise.”

Neil Hasegawa at his still-well-stocked family store. Tad Bartimus/Civil Beat

White-knuckle drivers of rental cars increasingly bring the Hana Road traffic to a standstill. Occasionally this pressure on the narrow cliff-side road road results in angry confrontations between East Maui residents trying to go about their business and tourists loitering to see the sights, often stopping in the middle of the road to gape.

The day before Hurricane Lane was expected to impact Maui, however, most of the faces patronizing Hana’s half-dozen food trucks, two grocery stores and local beaches were familiar ones.

“They’re gone for now,” said one shopper at Hasegawa General Store buying some extra milk and fresh vegetables, noticing only neighbors in the parking lot. “When I drove the road today I remembered what it used to be like to just cruise along before Hana got overrun.”

Neil Hasegawa is the fourth generation to run his family’s famous store since it was founded by two brothers 118 years ago on the road dirt between town and sugar plantation cane fields. The store prides itself on having “almost everything” locals might need, from lei needles to brake lines, aloha shirts to French wine, giant tarps to baby bibs.

Hasegawa said he keeps ahead of demand, even when a hurricane is on the way, “because we’ve been doing this for a long time. We know what we need to order extra when we see what’s coming. We haven’t run out of anything, have a lot of extra items on hand, and the (regular daily supply) truck will bring in plenty more of everything this afternoon.”

A walk through Hasegawa’s crowded shelves revealed few gaps, with extra stacks of hot items such as bottled water, toilet paper and rice in plentiful supply. With Hana’s only commercial ice machine and its own generator, Hasegawa’s is a mecca during power outages, bad weather and road disruption.

Up the hill from Hasegawa’s, past the Hana Post office and a bank open just 1½ hours on weekdays except Friday, when customers are welcomed for three hours, Hana Ranch Store also had full shelves and few cars in its parking lot.

“We know what our customers need and want because we all know each other, we are family and neighbors, we use the same things and need the same things,” said Kawika Kaina, store manager. “Most Hana folks shopped over the last two days so they’re ready for whatever comes.”

He said there were no shortages in his inventory.

“We had propane refilled this morning, we’ve got a whole lot of (bottled) water, we’ve got (fresh) produce, and we’ve got all the little things. We’ve got another shipment coming in today, so all seems well for us,” Kaina said, noting there was “plenty of beer, diapers, milk and all the essentials, ice cream and pizza. It’s an ice cream town.”

Kaina said tourist traffic “is way down” and residents are well prepared “because we’re used to having storms so we’re usually well stocked up at home.”

Regarding the absence of tourists, “I guess everybody is a little afraid,” he said.

A rare sight: Wednesday’s empty Hana Highway. 

The residents are not, he said.

“it’s just preparedness,” Kaina said. “Being out here in the middle of nowhere and having only one way in and out, it just is worry on the back of your mind whether you are going to have enough supplies to make it or not.

“It’s just a way of life – trees go down, we get accidents on the road, landslides … you’re just used to roads being closed and not being able to get out and get supplies.”

He said he’d heard about the rush on big box stores by consumers in urban areas of Hawaii as Lane approached the islands.

“You’ve got a lot of families here and we’re used to this type of lifestyle,” he said. “They say (Kahului) Costco’s line was maybe scores long and I think most of the people in Hana were just out gathering fruits and doing the normal things that they can do (to get ready for the hurricane) … its kind of weird to see that difference but it’s just our normal life, living out here in the bush. Everybody is used to this weather and we’re prepared for it.”

Hasegawa General Store and Hana Ranch Store are open seven days a week, usually 12 hours a day except for major holidays. Kaina and Hasegawa said they had no plans at this time to close their stores because of Hurricane Lane.

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