Maui visitors shrug off Olivia worries

But many heed advice to avoid East Maui during storm

KAHULUI — Most visitors at Kahului Airport and in Wailea expressed no worries about Tropical Storm Olivia and said that, if there were any storm-related inconveniences, they were minor.

“We figured the first day, we’re here it would rain and it will be nice the rest of the week,” said Jenny Kelley, who had just arrived at Kahului Airport from Southern California around noon Wednesday, about a couple of hours after Olivia made landfall on Maui.

“It’s not a hurricane,” said Robert Paul, who was traveling with Kelley, saying that a tropical storm would pass pretty fast.

But he said their flight was delayed about half an hour because the plane had to circle around the airport due to poor visibility.

Cheryl Gaines, who had just arrived from Los Angeles, said she wasn’t afraid of the storm.

But “it was pretty bumpy for the last hour,” she said of her flight as she walked to a car at the airport parking lot.

She said some passengers appeared nervous on the flight, but she assured them “we’ll be fine.”

State Department of Transportation officials said all flights were operating as scheduled Wednesday at the airport, and there were no terminal or runway issues that would prevent the airport from staying open.

Hawaiian Airlines announced Tuesday that its ‘Ohana by Hawaiian flights in and out of Kahului, Molokai, Lanai and Kapalua were canceled Wednesday. Transpacific flights continued as scheduled, however.

Mayor Alan Arakawa said Makani Kai Air also was not flying on Wednesday.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon on Oahu, George Szigeti, president and chief executive officer of the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, said visitors should stay informed.

“Don’t guess, don’t prejudge this Tropical Storm Olivia. It’s one thing we can count on, Mother Nature, she’s unpredictable.”

He suggested visitors get information from Civil Defense officials and news media outlets as well as tourism professionals.

A week ago, the tourism authority started to disseminate information about Olivia. And, as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, a command center was activated that included tourism officials who work with visitors from Japan and other global partners.

It appears tourists were heeding advice from government officials not to venture out to storm-affected areas, including Hana, which was expected to get hard hit by the storm.

Mavis Oliveira-Medeiros, who lives near Hamoa Beach in Hana, said she hadn’t seen many tourists, but she wasn’t sure if they were going through Hana town and just not coming to Hamoa Beach.

She said she was aware that a couple of tour vans ventured out to East Maui Tuesday.

But, overall, she wasn’t seeing visitor traffic.

“I think most of them are adhering to the requests to stay away,” she said.

Normally, tourists flock to Koki and Hamoa beaches. Parking gets so scarce that cars sometimes block roads and driveways.

“So this is kind of nice,” she said.

At the Wailea Beach Resort-Marriott, guests were pleasantly surprised to see the rain hold up, though it remained mostly overcast all day.

“When I woke up it was rainy this morning,” said Terri Bennett, who lives just outside of Kansas City, Mo. “But I was really surprised to see the sun peeking out. . . . I thought we were going to be locked up in our room all day.”

Neal Bennett said the couple drove the road to Hana on Tuesday. “I’m glad we took it before the storm, because we heard it was going to be really flooded out there,” he said.

Carol and Jeff Hahn of Chicago said they didn’t consider changing their travel plans because Olivia was already a tropical storm by the time they heard about it. The couple spent Wednesday shopping and grabbing some beers at Maui Brewing Co.

“We got spit on while at the shopping mall, but other than that it’s been quite sunny,” Jeff Hahn said, adding that they were disappointed they weren’t able to drive to Hana or do a bike ride from Haleakala National Park, which was closed for the storm.

“That was the only disappointment,” Carol Hahn said. “But it’s been beautiful here.”

Cheryl, a visitor from Florida who declined to give her last name, said she was “glad it was nothing big.”

“My phone keeps telling me it’s raining, and it’s been beautiful all day,” she said. “The palm trees weren’t blowing. There was little evidence of rain, and that was about it. . . . Hopefully tomorrow it’s the same.”

While most incoming visitors to Kahului Airport weren’t afraid of the storm, Devin Hollis of Phoenix was “pretty apprehensive” of flying to Maui with the storm nearby.

Hollis said that “for days” she had been watching weather reports tracking Olivia.

But Hollis and around a half-dozen family members kept their plane tickets because they’re not refundable.

She also worried about losing money on her reserved vacation rental in West Maui.

“If we didn’t get here, we were out of money,” she said.

But, while at Kahului Airport’s baggage claim area, Hollis was smiling with relief Wednesday afternoon after getting off a flight from San Francisco.

“It got really rough,” she said. But, “we made it.”

Visitors Jessica Sperling and Benjamin Eib of Germany were enjoying a lunch of Nutella and bread in the ticket lobby on Wednesday.

Even though they had to leave their campground in Olowalu early on Tuesday and find a hostel, Olivia did not ruin their trip.

Sperling noticed a store’s almost bare shelf when she went to buy water on Tuesday.

Overall, she said she liked Maui. “I love the landscape, the animals, plants and people. The good vibe of it,” she said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews .com. Staff Writers Chris Sugidono and Colleen Uechi contributed to this report.