Floodwaters cut 13-foot-deep gully, leaving two Haiku families stranded

Friends provide assistance, rides to work and school

Clarissa Hempel, a resident of one of three properties at the end of Puu Way in Haiku, traverses a gully that was once the road to her home while carrying her children Indo (left) and Nanuk. Heavy rains from Hurricane Lane on Friday washed out the access to the cul-de-sac where they live. CLARISSA HEMPEL photo

Two Haiku families, including one with five children, are grateful to have their electricity and water restored, but they’re still hoping for road access to their homes after last week’s heavy rains carved out a gully through their cul-de-sac.

On Friday night, a 13-foot-deep gully cut off road and pedestrian access to three properties at the end of Puu Way in Haiku. The gap is as much as 30 feet across and 80 feet long.

“We were astonished,” Clarissa Hempel said Wednesday. “We hiked up our driveway and thought, ‘Shoot. What are we going to do? We’re stranded here.’ I don’t know if I could sleep.”

Hempel and her husband, Roni Panzarini, had been preparing for Hurricane Lane when their power and water suddenly shut off. Their neighbor, Bob Lane, came by shortly afterward to tell them that their cul-de-sac was gone.

“We didn’t really understand what he was saying,” Hempel recalled. “We just thought it was flooded with a bunch of water.”

Hempel said she and her husband went outside to check the damage, but rain drenched them, and they could see a river behind their home with “literal waterfalls.” She said they eventually made their way down the steep hill of their driveway to see the destruction.

“When we got really close to it, we were like, ‘Wow it’s a big hole,’ “ she said. “We were shocked. We couldn’t believe it. The river was flowing full on.”

The family has children ages 17, 15, 8 and 11-month-old twins. They woke up early the next morning to figure out how to escape their home. Hempel said a group of tourists staying in a vacation rental home below her driveway and next to the gully also were looking for a way to reach the road.

The group was leaving the island that night, Hempel said. She said the manager of the vacation rental ended up picking up the visitors, but rental cars remain at the home.

“I told them I don’t know how we’re going to get out,” Hempel said. “We have no way out. You can go to the next-door neighbor and open up a crack with a chain saw.”

Lane, who has lived in the house next door to Hempel for 28 years, said Thursday that he and his wife fared a little better than his neighbors during the storm after powering up his generator. The retired Marine said he was able to run his refrigerator, lights and television for three days and has a propane camping stove for cooking.

Lane said he was most concerned about Hempel and her children. He added that vehicle access is crucial for the family.

“I’m going to survive. I’m a 70-year-old man,” he said. “Clarissa and her family are really in a bind. They’re renters, . . . and I’m really concerned about them more than me. Their work vehicles are all stuck on their property, meaning they can’t make a living, meaning they can’t make rent.

“It’s really sort of a crisis thing.”

Hempel said it was still “super dangerous” to cross over to the other side of the road the day after the flood because of rushing water. She said her family opted to cut a trail behind their home to reach Waha Place.

“We packed up a cooler and took everything out of the fridge and cabinets, and stayed at a friend’s house” she said. “Every time I get out from there I got to hike through the bushes with my two babies, my daughter and dog.”

The family returned home Wednesday after Maui Electric Co. and county workers restored utilities by using a helicopter to drop down power poles, Hempel said. She said friends have helped take her to work and other places, and her children to school.

While grateful for all the help and support of her friends, Hempel said it has been difficult caring for her twin babies, who have been sick with a fever and flu. She added that four cars remain on her property, including a rental car that their friend was using while staying with them.

“We’re very thankful we know people around here and can count on them,” she said. “Hopefully we can count on the county too, and I can have a decent car for me to drive with my babies and family. Hopefully they can make a temporary road for us.”

Lane said he hopes the county will build a temporary bridge for vehicles to cross, which could also help Hempel’s family get rid of trash that has piled up. He did, however, thank MECO and the county and other workers for responding to the neighborhood quickly.

“I’m really, really pleased with all the recovery work going on,” he said. “There’s not even good words for how grateful I am. But one critical factor remains to be that road so the neighbors can get their vehicles out and support their family.”

Department of Public Works Director David Goode said Tuesday that a temporary bridge could be put up within a month, but it would take at least two to three months before work can begin on a permanent fix. The permanent replacement is estimated to cost between $2 million to $2.5 million.

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