As rain from Hurricane Lane doused the island Thursday, curious onlookers drove over half-flooded streets to watch swollen rivers churn into the ocean despite repeated warnings from county officials to stay off the roads.
Although police in Hilo blocked public access to sites like Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots, residents still gathered at places like the bridges on Piihonua Road and Puueo Street to watch the raging Wailuku River.
“We went out searching for a rainbow, but I don’t think we want to walk that far,” said Hilo resident Walter Aymond, who watched the river enter the ocean from the “Singing Bridge” with fellow resident Elizabeth O’Keefe.
The river, swollen to much greater depths than typical, could be seen driving 50-100 yards into the bay, staining the bay a murky brown and depositing detritus like fallen branches into the ocean.
“I love it,” O’Keefe said. “It’s crazy; it’s always an adventure.”
Further upriver, at Piihonua Falls, dozens of residents parked on muddy roadsides to watch the engorged river storm over the falls.
While there was some contention as to the scope of the flooding — Hilo resident Chad Agpoon contended the river was not noticeably more flooded than it was in February, while a companion argued that he hadn’t seen the river so enraged since at least 1994 — the torrent drew gasps of surprise from onlookers.
“Everything that happens here is big,” O’Keefe said, giving the Kilauea eruption as an example.
“It’s an adventure living in the middle of the ocean.”
While residents were casual about the storm, visitors to the island eyed the hurricane’s effects with trepidation.
“We were planning on staying another week, but now I don’t know what we’re doing,” said California resident Sarah Samuel, who arrived at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel earlier this week.
Samuel said she mostly intended to remain at the hotel Thursday to keep up with weather updates.
Seattle couple Barry and Kim Gooding arrived in Kailua-Kona on Sunday, and left to visit Hilo Wednesday when it appeared that the west side of the island would sustain the brunt of the hurricane’s impact.
“I heard there were 10-12-foot waves over on that side,” Barry Gooding said.
“We’re used to earthquakes, not hurricanes,” Kim Gooding added.
Although dozens of Hilo businesses — as well as every school in the state — were closed in anticipation of Hurricane Lane, for many residents, the storm did not interfere with their day-to-day lives to any great degree.
“It’s kind of normal, really,” Agpoon said. “My day’s really been the same as any other day.”
Another Hilo resident, Dave Brandon, said the biggest storm-related obstacle he faced Thursday was the closure of a number of grocery stores.
“Other than that, it’s been one of the most pleasant storms I’ve experienced,” Brandon said, adding that he had done field work on a farm during previous tropical storms. “Now I just get to stay indoors at home. Except I still need to get groceries.”
Other residents were less fortunate. Waiakea Uka resident and radio personality Darrin Carlson said part of his home had sustained substantial flooding.
“Our road, it’s at a slope, so we do get a lot of heavy rain that way,” Carlson said.
“My father-in-law puts diversions up in our yard to kind of direct some of that water around. But water finds a way. You know, you plug all the leaks, you try to get all of them, but water still finds a way. That’s when we get it in our outside bathroom, and it sometimes gets into our garage, too.”
Carlson said the storm was comparable to floods that occurred 10 and 18 years ago, in February of 2008 and November of 2000.
“That was pretty severe,” Carlson said. “Those are the two times that really stand out in my mind.”
Pepeekeo resident Larry Sellers said a fallen banyan tree disabled waterlines for his entire street and partially flooded his house.
“It caused the water to flood underneath my house, and it’s a sight,” Sellers said. “We had to move the people out of the house in the middle of the night … and it’s crazy.”
In spite of many residents’ nonchalance, Hawaii County Civil Defense urged residents to not venture onto the roads unless they needed to.
“We are still under a flash flood warning, which, as the name suggests, means they could happen at any time,” said Civil Defense spokeswoman Kelly Wooten. “If you don’t have to go anywhere, we are suggesting that you stay off the roads.”
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org