‘The water just started washing things away,’ resident says
HONOKOHAU VALLEY — More than a dozen homes and properties in Honokohau Valley in West Maui were flooded on Wednesday afternoon, including two bedrooms that were picked up and displaced by the raging Honokohau Stream fed by heavy rain from Tropical Storm Olivia.
The center of Olivia made landfall on Maui at Kahakuloa near the valley as it made its way over the West Maui Mountains on Wednesday. The deluge from the tropical storm as it passed swelled Honokohau Stream and ditches and forced many families to evacuate their homes. Others were cut off by a river that runs between properties.
Four people were unaccounted for during the storm but were later found safe, fire officials said Wednesday.
Several families appeared to be displaced by the flood; they planned to stay with friends and family. Fifteen to 25 families live in the area affected by the floodwaters, residents said.
No injuries were reported, though at least one animal had drowned.
“The water just started washing things away, people’s cars, houses. I saw one go by, and I had to evacuate,” Mundy Gillcoat said outside a road closure near his house off Honoapiilani Highway. “I didn’t stay around for this stuff.”
The rain began to pick up around 1:30 p.m. and overflowed Honokohau Stream and auwai or ditches in the valley, Gillcoat said. He said five minutes later it felt like “a fricken tsunami came through.”
“I seen my neighbors cars just piling up, going, ‘boom, boom, boom,’ coming towards my house,” he said. “I got my daughter in the car and got the hell out of there.”
Resident Kainoa Wilson, who has lived in the valley for 52 years, said she has never experienced flooding like Wednesday.
“There was water all over the place,” Wilson said. “It was completely level with the banks, and I’d never seen it that high before. That’s a good 12 to 15 feet.”
Families returned to their homes around 5 p.m. to assess damage and to check on neighbors trapped by rushing waters. Many properties had belongings of residents further up the valley, including a building that had moved a couple hundred feet.
Honokohau resident Gretchen Losano identified the building as the bedroom she shares with her husband, Joshua. It was resting on large piles of vegetation.
Another one of the couple’s buildings was swept up by floodwaters as well but was nowhere to be seen and was presumed lost. That building was their children’s bedroom, which was filled with bunk beds for five children, ages 2 to 12.
“It’s hard to take in,” Joshua Losano said. “I don’t know, houses can be rebuilt. I’m just glad to see everyone safe. We came here and seen them bringing an uncle across the river and that’s more important than your house getting washed away. That was my main focus.”
Gretchen Losano said she had evacuated the valley Tuesday night with one of her daughters. She returned Wednesday to find the bedrooms gone and the kitchen and living room flooded. There were broken doors, windows and furniture.
Floodwaters also destroyed their solar panels and generators. Like many families in the valley, they live off the grid. The couple said they plan to stay with friends and family until they come up with a plan to rebuild their home.
Gretchen Losano said a large flood in spring last year helped change her perspective on life and prepared her for Wednesday’s tragedy. She said it has been her dream to live in the valley, where she gave birth to her son and got married.
“It’s not about the rooms. It’s not about the stuff,” she said. “We were able to evacuate a lot of our stuff. The big stuff is going to be a real challenge to replace, like the solar panels and, of course, the living structures.
“But I just feel really grateful to be here right now and be able to stand here and understand the course of nature.”
She said last month’s fire that destroyed more than a dozen homes in Kauaula Valley also weighed on her mind. Many residents lost their homes and all of their belongings in the fire that came without warning.
“It was a quick mad dash to grab all the things we could,” she said. “I feel so grateful we even had that opportunity. My friends in Kauaula Valley, they didn’t even get the chance to do that. They just lost everything.”
While Honokohau Valley residents assessed damage to their homes Wednesday, residents along Lower Honoapiilani Road appeared to emerge relatively unscathed despite knee-deep floodwaters closing and warping the road. Several homes in the 4700 to 4800 block on the road were evacuated, county officials said.
Kelly Pitzer, whose property is right next to a drainage ditch that feeds Kahana Stream, watched the raging waters undermine the road and carry a large banana tree into a guardrail. She said only a small concrete wall separated her living room and her daughter’s bedroom from the floodwaters.
“It’s an old, old wall that’s falling apart and eroding on one side, so we were prepared for it to collapse into the ditch,” Pitzer said. “It’s amazing it held up. It’s old and rickety with waterspouts coming through, but it’s what protected us from the flood. I’m thankful for our old wall, but we’ll probably have to replace it.”
Pitzer said the flooding was “worse than anything we’ve ever seen,” but she still felt safe in her neighborhood. She said she was thankful to all the Maui residents willing to help those in need.
“What’s so great about our community is that people told us to let them know if we need anything,” she said. “I love that feeling that everyone is here for each other and maybe that’s why I feel safe because there’s so many people willing to help.
“I love that about Maui.”
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.