(BIVN) – Last week, the Hawaiʻi County Council advanced a measure that will hopefully prevent a repeat of the flooding that hit the Piʻihonua community during Hurricane Lane last summer.
Bill 54 adds the Public Works Piʻihonua Levee project to the Hawaiʻi County’s Capital Budget. The federal government is providing $3,075,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the County is kicking in $1,025,000, for a total appropriation of $4.1 million.
Funds would be used to repair damages to the Piʻihonua Levee caused by Hurricane Lane.
“Because of a small stream that runs through our community,” said Conrad Hokama of the Piʻihonua Community Association, who testified during the council meeting, “floodwaters came down and so Waianuenue Avenue, for a short period of time, could have been called Waianuenue Stream.”
Hokama said that following a similar flooding incident in 1987, the community and the government teamed to build a berm, or levee, that “up until now it pretty much did its job. We’ve had a lot of big storms we were not in the news because the berm was doing its job,” Hokama said.
But Hurricane Lane, which dumped 48 inches of rain on Piʻihonua, “was much more severe than what the berm could handle. So we incurred a lot of flooding and some of our residents were stranded,” Hokama said.
“The situation from the flooding also prevented our residents above the flood zone from getting access out of the community, if they needed emergency services” Hokama said. “The end of Piʻihonua is a dead-end road. In the past, when the plantations were in operation, they were accessed through the cane fields for emergency exit out of the community. However, as many years ago, roads have not been maintained.”
“Piʻihonua Bridge was covered ankle-deep in mud,” Hokama said, “and that was not the case back in 1987.”
Karl Mendonca, whose Piʻihonua property lies just below the levee that broke during Hurricane Lane, said that “all the flood water came down through that ditch and through the community. It flowed across my property and came several feet from my home. We ended up evacuating that night, because it happened at night. We couldn’t tell what was going on. So, it’s a real concern to myself and members of the community.”
“I’m actually the house that was hit directly by this flash flood from the rupture of the levee,” said Margeret Collins. “The water came at 10:30 at night. It hit so hard that a cement wall 50 feet long and three and a half feet wide collapsed, completely intact. I had to evacuate my house. I was fortunate that my neighbor was able to rescue me. We stayed in a house on the second floor for over 4 and a half hours, because rescue could not get to us.”
“I’ve been around here a long time,” said Council Chair Aaron Chung. “Some of you guys weren’t around during the 70’s, but this Hurricane Lane was probably the worst that I’ve seen since the 70’s. That 70’s flood is what necessitated the improvements at the Alenaio Stream. I saw houses coming down that stream. It was really bad.”
The council passed Bill 54 on the first reading.