Big storm bashes into Big Island


Sometimes even Mother Nature likes to end the year with a bang.

The Big Island’s strongest storm of the season pounded windward areas Sunday and Monday with heavy rain, rolling thunder and countless flashes of lightning that put on a show that could rival even some of tonight’s celebrations.

The storm hit the Hamakua Coast the hardest, where numerous landslides closed a long stretch of Highway 19. A sinkhole on Monday morning also swallowed a truck near Paauilo.

The hole, apparently caused by a culvert collapsing on Pohakea Mauka Road, was large enough to completely engulf the vehicle.

Darryl Oliveira, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, said the driver was not injured.

The hole isolated about 50 residents, said Fire Chief Darren Rosario.

Rosario said a private road blocked by a gate may be opened to give residents access.

The storm was expected to dissipate by today, with scattered showers forecast for windward areas this evening.

Twenty-four hour rain totals reached 7 inches in Hilo and Pahoa, and 3 inches in Waimea as of Monday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. The highest accumulations were on the Hamakua Coast.

“It is possible there was up to 10 inches in some places (in Hamakua),” said Derek Wroe, weather service forecaster.

Highway 19 was closed between mile-markers 26 and 36 at about 2 a.m. Monday and reopened around noon.

Small slides caused at least one partial lane closure in the area that afternoon and traffic was restricted again at mile-marker 47 at about 3 p.m. due to a loose power line.

The Hawaii Electric Light Co. reported sporadic outages. How many customers were impacted wasn’t immediately clear, but HELCO expected power to be restored to all customers by today.

The Fire Department used a helicopter to assess damage in Hamakua and to check on campers in Waimanu Valley. Rosario said there were six campers and one dog in the isolated valley, all apparently in good condition.

They planned to hike out today, he said.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources closed access to the Muliwai trail and into Waimanu Valley on Monday afternoon.

Wroe said the late December deluge was caused by an upper-level trough of low pressure moving over the island.

That collided with moisture from a lower-level trough that had drifted over a few days before.

“That was really the triggering mechanism,” he said.

Along with rain, the system also created instability in the upper atmosphere, prompting the impressive show of lightning and thunder, Wroe said.

Hail was also reported in Puna.

Oliveira said multiple “feeder streets” were temporarily closed due to flooding and downed trees.

Kim Tokihiro, owner of Hilo Floral Designs, was prepared as usual.

The business on Kilauea Avenue has been a frequent victim of flooding, and she had her sand bags ready.

Still, some water made it passed the doorway after a street drain had plugged with debris.

But Tokihiro said she received help from Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi who saw the situation while driving by.

“Fresh and I were out there clearing all the rubbish with our hands,” she said.

“The drain was all clogged up right passed my door.”

About an inch of snow fell on Mauna Kea but it had mostly melted by Monday afternoon.

A DOT spokeswoman said flights out of Hilo International Airport weren’t impacted.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.