Slide closes highway near Keanae

A mudslide about 100 feet long and 20 feet high early Friday evening blocked both lanes of traffic on Hana Highway on the Kahului side of Keanae, with public safety and state officials giving no estimated time for reopening.

Lea Kalalau of Hana was driving with two others to Seabury Hall in Makawao to watch a boys volleyball match between Hana and Seabury at about 5:30 p.m. As she reached the area near Mile Marker 14 in the area of Nuaailua Bay, Kalalau said, rocks began falling.

“A few rocks started falling down, so we stopped and could hear the rumbling on the top,” she said at the volleyball game. “So we gassed it forward, and it came right down behind us.”

The rock pile was as large as the Ford Escape she was in with her sister Ui Paman, who was behind the wheel, and her father-in-law, Kamalana Kalalau.

“You could kind of hear the rumbling so my father-in-law, he’s a retired construction worker . . . told us to keep going, keep going. So we gassed it, and right when we gassed it the whole thing came right down behind us.

“We kept on going until we could pull over, and then we called 911 so that somebody could go and start cleaning the road.”

Kalalau said there were a lot of cars behind them and that the truck right behind them “just slowed down.”

“I don’t know what for, but they didn’t make it across. Nobody got hurt though,” she said.

Early reports indicated that vehicles may have been buried in the mudslide or washed down the cliff below.

Firefighters and the Fire Department’s Air One helicopter checked the area below the highway and determined that no vehicles were pushed off the road, said Fire Capt. Lionel Montalvo.

He added that fire and police officials “could not confirm that vehicles on the road were not buried beneath the landslide.” As of 8:45 p.m. Friday, there were no injuries reported.

Acting Fire Battalion Chief James Brent reported that state highway crews with heavy equipment responded and were on the scene. County Public Works crews also were assisting, said county spokesman Rod Antone.

Their work to clear the road was hampered by the landslide, which was “still actively moving” and making cleanup and clearing efforts unsafe, said Montalvo. The highway remained blocked to traffic in both directions as crews awaited an assessment by state highway engineers to determine if the scene was safe for heavy equipment to clear the area, he said.

Caroline Sluyter, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said Friday night that there was no estimated time on the road opening, adding that the mudslide sounded large.

Kalalau said that as they drove away from the mudslide they passed 50 to 60 stopped cars on the Kahului side. She noted that the very popular Hana Taro Festival is scheduled today.

“They got a long wait ahead of them,” she said.

On other side of the slide, Kalalau said she tried calling family and friends in Hana to tell them about the landslide but that some had already left for the game.

“Some of them said they’re just going to wait it out,” she said.

Friday was a wet day, with a flood advisory posted for several hours in the afternoon that could have been a factor in the mudslide.

When asked what was going through her mind after they made it through, Kalalau replied: “I was like thank you Jesus. We get to go to the volleyball game.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at Chris Sugidono can be reached at