Weeklong phone outage frustrates Nahiku residents

Nahiku resident Mapu Kekahuna felt “on edge” a week before Thanksgiving because his elderly mother, diabetic sister and a pregnant family member all were without landline phone service — their only form of phone connection — for almost a week.

“Anything can happen, and they have no contact,” he said Tuesday. “I’m sorry, but if you want to die in peace, well, go live here.”

Upper and lower Nahiku residents, who have spotty to no cellphone service, lost their landline service without warning from Nov. 16 to 22, Kekahuna said. It was the second time in two years that his family has had its phone lines go dead with no alerts or explanations from the telephone company.

“It wasn’t a storm or major power outage, the weather was nice,” Kekahuna said. “We just didn’t get the information about why the phone went out. We went and made calls to Hana police, and they didn’t know our area was out. It was just a very frustrating situation.”

Hawaiian Telcom is the only telephone service provider in the area, and company spokeswoman Ann Nishida said that a handful of customers were affected by the outage. The issue “took time to troubleshoot” and it might have been caused by a severe thunderstorm in October that triggered an islandwide power outage, Nishida said.

“Issues often surface days or even weeks after heavy rains that cause water to penetrate cables or equipment, which is the root cause in this case,” Nishida said Wednesday. “This repair involved transferring service to new cables and replacing some equipment located in a remote area.”

Customers affected will receive a credit for their time without service after the first 24 hours, Nishida added.

The small East Maui community depends on landline phone service for daily communication and emergencies. An uncle of the Kekahunas suffered a heart attack during a phone service outage in 2016.

“There was no phone service when he passed,” Kekahuna said. “We had to coconut wireless to call out the medics.”

In October, a tourist walking near the shoreline of Nahiku Landing saw a Kahului man yelling for help and waving his arms. The tourist ran up Nahiku Road and stopped at the nearest house to call for help, the Fire Department’s report said. When the man returned to the ocean 10 minutes later, the 46-year-old man was floating face down and later pronounced dead by paramedics.

Kekahuna identified himself as the person who called 911 and spoke to the tourist in that incident. He said that the tourist had tried going to other residences, but it was a workday so nobody was home.

He noted that the tourist initially tried calling 911 from his cellphone but did not have reception.

“The poor guy was crying; he was an emotional wreck,” Kekahuna said. “He just watched a person drown right in front of him, and he couldn’t do anything.”

The family emphasized that it was not blaming Hawaiian Telcom for bad weather or the emergencies but is asking for more assistance and communication.

Kekahuna’s mother, kumu Kamalu Kaho’okele, said that hundreds of tourists pass through Nahiku on their way to Hana. If they get trapped by landslides or falling debris, there is no method of communication, with cellphone service spotty. She suggested that the phone company or government install an emergency call box near the community. Currently, the closest emergency box is in Hana town, about 7 miles away.

“At least we can go to the call box because we don’t have any public phones,” Kaho’okele said. “It’s something we can lean on.”

Kekahuna did criticize the phone company for its customer service and maintenance of phone lines that hang over Hana Highway. He said some lines are leaning, stretched too far or even mounted on top of eucalyptus trees.

“Hawaiian Tel needs to send engineers out there and take a look at their stuff and make some adjustments,” he said. “There’s vegetation growing over the wires, and it’s looking like decoration.”

Kekahuna also claimed that the company only has one technician in East Maui, who was on vacation when the phone lines went dead. He said workers from Central Maui were dispatched to make repairs but were unfamiliar with the rural area.

Nishida said that she did not know how many workers service East Maui but maintained that the company does plan for vacations. She could not speak about the condition of the telephone lines, but noted that the company is actively upgrading its infrastructure.

“We’re very committed to Hawaii and servicing our customers,” she said. “We’ve been here since 1883, and we’re proud to service all of the communities in Hawaii and respond to their needs as quickly as possible. We thank them for their patience and understanding, especially for those areas that have equipment in rural areas.”

Hawaiian Telcom customers are encouraged to provide an alternate form of contact, such as an email to receive updates and alerts, Nishida said. Customers can chat with support staff at www.hawaiiantel.com/Support/SupportForm/tabid/1346/Default.aspx.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.