Kauai woos travellers as island recovers from floods

  • Apr. 27, 2018 7:07 p.m.

HONOLULU — Residents and businesses are still cleaning up from flooding that deluged parts of Kauai, but community leaders are urging tourists to keep coming so residents don’t suffer an economic calamity on top of record-breaking rains that smothered a normally green landscape in reddish-brown water.

Some travellers are cancelling their reservations after getting the wrong impression the mid-April flooding damaged the entire Hawaiian island. Although landslides blocked roads and floods tore apart homes and uprooted trees, most of the island is unscathed. Nearly 50 inches (127 centimetres) of rain fell in one 24-hour period.

Some tourists are avoiding the island’s north shore where fast-moving waters swept away cars, even though many businesses have reopened.

Tourism is the biggest industry on the island there and most restaurants and shops rely on spending by visitors to stay afloat, providing jobs for thousands of Kauai residents.

Kauai County Council Chairman Mel Rapozo, who works as a hotel night auditor, said some visitors have been talked out of cancelling their trips but that others cancel them online without speaking to anyone.

“My concern is the economic impact should those businesses start closing up — even temporarily — because they do employ a significant amount of our residents,” Rapozo said. “A lot of people will lose their jobs. And that’s going to cause another situation here for Kauai.”

He said it would be an “economic disaster” if Kauai were to lose many jobs to a flood-induced tourism slowdown.

Tourists have been avoiding hard-hit Hanalei, a historic small town and the commercial centre of the island’s north shore even though many restaurants and shops on the town’s pedestrian-friendly main street are operating or reopening.

Rapozo said visitors should stick to the highway and avoid side roads, where tourists are likely to get in the way of repair crews.

Mina Morita, the president of the Hanalei Community Center, said the damaged narrow road leading to her home is now busy with heavy equipment and residents trying to clean up. She hopes visitors will respect the “local traffic only” sign posted on her street but wants them in the centre of town because people whose homes were damaged “definitely need their jobs at this time.”

The flood reports didn’t deter Christina Zhu of Seattle, who hopes to snorkel and hike when she and her boyfriend visit Kauai early next month.

Rescheduling isn’t an option because their tickets aren’t refundable. Plus, they’ve already requested the time off work. She’s been researching what to do by reading guides and checking the Reddit page for Kauai for the latest news.

One activity she’s looking forward to: taking a shelter dog from the Kauai Humane Society on a field trip, perhaps on a dog-friendly hike. The human society has allowed visitors to take a dog on such excursions since 2012.

“Flood or not, I’m sure there will be plenty of things to do on the island, and hopefully as a tourist I will be able to help out somehow as well,” she said.

Jan Snarski of Vancouver, British Columbia said his family was a little worried when they saw how much water was on the ground when they arrived a day after the storm. But they found places to surf, hike and swim.

Snarksi said Kauai was “business as usual” when he left Wednesday.

“The weather was perfect and we had a fabulous last day on the island,” Snarksi said in an email while flying home.

The National Weather Service said preliminary data indicates Kauai broke a national rainfall record after a gauge one mile west of Hanalei recorded 49.69 inches (126.21 centimetres) during the 24-hour period ending at 12:45 p.m. on April 15. If certified, that would break the current record of 43 inches (109 centimetres) recorded in Alvin, Texas in 1979.

The island’s north shore towns of Haena and Wainiha will be off-limits until at least next month because landslides cut off Kuhio Highway, the only road connecting them to the rest of the island. Officials hope to open one lane by May 7 but only for emergency vehicles at first.

The blocked highway will prevent access to hiking trails hugging dramatic cliffs along the Napali Coast and popular beach parks at Haena.

Visitors can still gaze across Hanalei valley for a postcard-picture view of taro patches fronting verdant mountains.

And there was no damage to favoured sites elsewhere, like the white sands of Poipu Beach, spots overlooking Wailea’s waterfalls and Waimea Canyon — a deep gorge dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

Audrey McAvoy, The Associated Press

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