Hard-hit Upcountry endures water and power outages
County: Water could be restored Tuesday night, but lines have to be flushed
Along with losing power starting Sunday night, hundreds of Kula residents were without water after heavy rains swept through gulches, eroding water transmission lines.
“Electricity is slowly coming on board, but the water — we don’t know about that,” said Upper Kula resident Jamie Fonseca, who was without both electricity and water Tuesday afternoon. “There’s a lot of people out of water.”
County water tankers with potable water were set up at Fong Store, Ulupalakua Ranch, Kula Community Center and Kula Fire Station.
Food boxes and bottled water are being distributed to residents affected by flooding and outages from 1 to 7 p.m. today and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani. The hub opened by Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services, the county and other organizations also has charging stations and free Wi-Fi.
After working all day Monday to repair waterlines in a gulch near one water tank feeding the Kula area, crews realized the water level in the tank was dropping too quickly and discovered another 80 feet of damaged 12-inch waterline in the next gulch, said Maui County Department of Water Supply Director Jeff Pearson.
Multiple breaks were reported in difficult-to-reach locations, according to a county news release Tuesday.
“Terrain, power outages, mud and downed trees continue to hamper recovery efforts,” the release said.
Pearson said county crews had to wait until Hawaiian Electric Co. repairs were done to get access to the damaged waterline. When weather conditions prevented a helicopter from flying replacement pipe into the gulch Tuesday morning, crews took a four-wheel drive carrying the pipe as far as they could, then dragged the pipe the rest of the way, Pearson said.
“Our guys didn’t give up,” he said.
Crews walked in to do the repairs, which were still underway late Tuesday afternoon, Pearson said.
He said the repairs might be done near dark Tuesday, but lines would still have to be flushed. He said customers possibly would have begun getting their water back as early as Tuesday night.
In some areas, water service might be affected by electrical outages if booster pumps can’t run to provide water to a tank, Pearson said.
In Paia, for example, there was no power for pumps, affecting Skill Village, according to the county’s website on Tuesday afternoon. Kaupakalua wells in Haiku as well as the Piiholo Water Treatment Plant in Makawao had no power.
Honokohau also did not have water, though the county did not cite electrical issues. A water wagon was on-site.
After her electricity was restored Monday night, Upper Kula resident Mindy Fletcher Sistar said water service was back Tuesday afternoon. “I’m so excited to go home and take a nice long bath,” she said.
With no other drivers in the household including her parents and her two teenage sons, “everybody depended on me,” said Fletcher Sistar, who was working and also making sure the family had meals while water and electricity were out.
In the Kula Highlands area, Clyde Hamai said electricity was restored Monday night but there was still no water Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s been almost two days now with no water,” Hamai said.
He filled buckets of water at the nearby home of his son, who had water but no electricity, so the family could flush the toilet and have drinking water.
Drawing on his Boy Scout training, Hamai used a gas stove to heat the water and mixed it with cold water to bathe. He also brought out gas lanterns.
His niece Stephanie Burdick, who lives nearby, also had electricity but no water Tuesday afternoon.
Starting Monday when she realized there was no water, she collected rainwater in buckets to flush toilets.
After getting a text message late Monday night that Kula Elementary School would be open Tuesday because power was restored, she was in the car with her two fourth graders when she got another text Tuesday morning saying the school would be closed because it didn’t have water.
Kamehameha Schools Maui also was closed Tuesday after electrical power wasn’t fully restored Monday, according to its Instagram page.
Residents said it had been difficult to get updates about when water service might be restored. Until Tuesday, Hamai and Burdick said they didn’t know the potable water tankers were available.
After learning about the county water department’s 24-hour hotline, she called at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, when it sounded like the water might be restored in the afternoon, and again at 1 p.m. Tuesday, when it was less certain.
“At least that helps me prepare myself for the realization we’re not going to have water,” Burdick said. “In these times of COVID, we get so used to washing our hands all the time. It’s been hand sanitizer all over the house again. It’s just been an experience, but we’re making it through.
“There are still families with no power and no water. We’re thankful we at least have electricity.”
In Upper Kula, Fonseca said there should have been more warning about the strong winds that blew rain under her doors, sent plant pots on her lanai flying and littered her driveway with tree branches.
“We had no notice. All they could talk about was flood watches,” she said. “The wind downed so many trees. We were really caught off guard. I’m blaming the county for that.”
When she went to look for water Monday, Fonseca said many Kula stores were closed, although Morihara Store was open. The closest open gas stations were in Pukalani and Makawao, she said. She worried about food in her two refrigerators.
“A hot shower will feel really great,” she said. “I think I’ll have renewed appreciation.”
Ulupalakua Ranch Store had no power and was closed Tuesday. Maui Wine also was closed with no water and power.
Haleakala National Park opened its summit and Kipahulu areas Tuesday morning.
Maui County Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who was without power and water at her house, said a Kula resident reported that their tenants had gone to stay in a hotel with their two children because of concerns about safety with the outages.
“We all have to be patient,” she said. “Our county departments are trying to work as fast and as best as they can.”
She said residents can report any damages from the storm at mauicounty.gov. The information will be used to file a claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Sugimura said she would try to find answers for residents who call her at (808) 870-8047.
“It makes you appreciate how lucky we are that we have running water and all the good benefits we just take for granted,” she said.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.