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Drivers trapped by landslides ‘made the best of it’

Visitor describes being stuck on Hana Highway for 9 hours

A landslide on Hana Highway near Milepost 10 made the road impassible for about 75 people Saturday. Kansas visitor Mike Hutchison said that he and his wife were trapped on the road for about nine hours. MIKE HUTCHISON photo

Kansas visitors Mike Hutchison and his wife spent New Year’s Eve in an unexpected setting — stuck between two landslides on Hana Highway with about 75 other people.

The Hutchisons’ adventure to Hana was derailed Saturday when landslides between Mileposts 9.5 and 15 held up traffic for about nine hours. But despite the poor conditions, most drivers were in good spirits.

“It wasn’t as bad as I would’ve expected,” Hutchison said Sunday. “Everyone was sharing food and drinks, and you met the people around you. . . . We never really knew how long it was going to be, and we just kind of made the best of it.”

About 25 vehicles and about 75 people were stuck for several hours, Hutchison estimated. The rubble and debris were finally cleared around 7 p.m. Saturday.

East Maui was drenched with rain over the weekend. The National Weather Service gauge at West Wailuaiki in Keanae recorded 6.88 inches over a 24-hour period ending 6:45 p.m. Sunday, giving the area almost 17 inches of rain over the course of 48 hours. Hana Airport recorded 1.94 inches of rain in the same 24-hour period (for a total of almost 6 inches in 48 hours) and Kaupo Gap received 1.48 inches.

Brown floodwater pools in the Kahului-bound lane of Hana Highway around 9:30 a.m. Saturday. MIKE HUTCHISON photo

Other parts of the county got their share as well — Kahakuloa had 3.36 inches in the 24-hour period ending at 6:45 p.m. Sunday, while the Puu Alii gauge on Molokai recorded 3.50 inches.

On Sunday, another rockslide on Hana Highway in the area of Honomanu Bay partially blocked the road, and a large fallen tree branch blocked the Hana-bound lane at Milepost 21.

Conditions on the road over the weekend were “insane,” California visitor Frances Yaramishyn said Sunday.

Yaramishyn and friend Adrienne Brockman, both avid campers, had driven to the YMCA camp in Keanae on Friday night, but heavy rains forced them to stay indoors.

“We listened to it pour all night,” Yaramishyn said.

Vehicles are lined up on Hana Highway on Saturday while waiting for the roadway to be cleared of landslide near Milepost 10. MIKE HUTCHISON photo

The two scrapped plans to go to Hana and were driving back to Central Maui on Saturday morning when they encountered a mudslide that was blocking 80 percent of the road. They managed to get around it but hadn’t gone far when they came across a fallen tree “that there was just no getting around,” Yara-mishyn said. They turned around get help and found a road-clearing crew.

“We followed them as they bulldozed their way out, clearing the path as the rain still pelted down, making the road more of a river,” Yaramishyn said. “There was little traffic but we kept meeting other cars that we had to warn about the blocked road. By the time we left we were a caravan.”

That same morning, Hutchison and his wife were on their way to Hana, “the highest priority” on the couple’s Maui to-do list, he said. With limited time to make the drive, they decided to give it a go Saturday despite the rain.

“We thought the rain would stop, we were in a Jeep, there were many people ahead of us and the road would be closed if there was a real concern,” Hutchison said.

But just as they arrived at a visitors center at Milepost 12, the road was closed down. The Hutchisons were heading back to their hotel in Kaanapali when they encountered a fallen tree and some rocks. Some other drivers were able to move the tree so that vehicles could pass. But when the couple reached Milepost 10 at around 10:15 a.m., another pile of debris blocked the road. This time, it was much bigger.

A Maui police officer was quickly on scene and wouldn’t let anyone touch the debris, Hutchison said.

“A couple people were upset that the officer would not let us move one lane of debris and spent hours agitating the officer,” Hutchison said. “It didn’t look that bad, but the fear was that if we moved it, (more) was going to fall.”

So the waiting began. A wedding party “completely stocked with all the food and booze” happened to be among the trapped vehicles, “and they made a party of it,” Hutchison said. People played music and, when it wasn’t raining, they stepped out to chat.

“Overall, I was impressed with the morale of the people waiting,” he said. “We knew our lives weren’t in danger. . . . It was only a matter of getting vehicles out.”

At around 5 p.m., Paia fire crews hiked over the landslide to bring food, water and blankets to the occupants of the trapped vehicles, Capt. Paul Haake said Saturday. It was already dark when a bulldozer arrived at 6:45 p.m. The last of the debris was cleared and the drivers were able to leave at 7 p.m., “after almost nine hours of being stuck,” Hutchison said.

“It definitely was an experience” for the couple’s first trip to Maui, he said.

At midnight, while the island was ringing in the new year, the Hutchisons were already asleep.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.