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Storms will only worsen

Haiku residents know a thing or two about rain. In a community where downpours are a part of life, Monday’s storm sounded and felt different.

The 13.2 inches of rain that fell in eight hours left old-timers in the lush green community claiming they had never seen it come down so hard. One described a curtain of rain too thick to see through. Another said the giant drops seemed to be coming from every direction at once.

Little streams and dry creek beds suddenly morphed into raging brown torrents. Before long, roads and lawns were awash with running water. What once seemed like safe spots to plant gardens and build structures was threatened and then overwhelmed.

Buildings and belongings, including vehicles, appliances and tools, were swept away or destroyed. A bridge on Peahi Road was washed under and the 136-year-old Kaupakalua Dam was overtopped, forcing evacuations downstream. Thankfully, despite the intensity of the storm, no loss of life was reported.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino called the flooding “unprecedented,” and Tuesday, Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed an emergency declaration for the entire state. Though they have their hands full dealing with a pandemic and trying to keep our economy afloat, Ige and Victorino must use this flooding event as a teaching moment.

Long after COVID-19 is relegated to the back page, powerful storms will challenge Hawaii’s people and its infrastructure. Climate scientists predict rising sea temperatures will not only fuel more fast-moving storms like the one that raked the state this week, but also more frequent and bigger hurricanes. Pacific hurricanes already track farther north on average than they used to. That trend is expected to continue.

One of these days, a category-grade storm is going to spin past our protectors, Haleakala, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and score a direct hit. This week, we learned a tempest doesn’t need a name to cause havoc.

We have had friends check in from as far away as Serbia to make sure the Kaupakalua Dam incident hadn’t swept away our Kihei home. It is unfortunate that some early reports said the retired earthen dam had breached. The usually empty dam held. It is set for demolition this summer. Most property damage was uphill of the structure.

Our hearts go out to those who suffered losses in the storm. We wish them the best with their cleanups and rebuilds, as well as the wisdom to learn from this hardship.

Monday’s deluge offered lessons aplenty, like why high hazard dams must be removed or closely monitored, why culverts and ditches must be kept clean and why structures should not be built in flood zones.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.

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