Wet Weather Socks Hawaii with Landslides, Tornados
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Next we'll report on some severe weather that has been striking Hawaii. Over the last six weeks, a rare weather system has dumped record rainfall there, as Jesse Hardman reports.
JESSE HARDMAN reporting:
Glenn James's office sits on one of the driest spots in Hawaii. But you can't tell that from the erosion-induced landslide of mud piled up in the parking lot of the Maui-based Pacific Disaster Center.
Inside, the senior weather analyst ticks off a list of the other things he never expected to see here in paradise.
Mr. GLENN JAMES (Media Officer, Pacific Disaster Center): Tornado, water spouts, dam breaks, loss of life.
HARDMAN: Hawaii's capital, Honolulu, is still recovering from massive floods last week that forced evacuations, wrecked houses, and created sewage overflow so devastating that parts of the famous Waikiki Beach were temporarily closed.
On the island of Kauai, residents are cleaning up from flash floods that caused a March 14th dam break, killing seven people and causing millions in damage.
James says most residents haven't seen anything like this.
Mr. JAMES: We have to look back in the record books as far as March of 1951 to find a weather pattern that's similarly as wet as what we're having now.
HARDMAN: After more than 40 days of steady rain, it's not just Hawaii's infrastructure that's beginning to crack.
Jim and Karen Giovetti(ph) came to Maui a week ago to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary with a week at the beach. The couple sits anxiously on a park bench, hoping to catch their first Hawaiian sunset before they head back to Massachusetts.
Mr. JIM GIOVETTI (Tourist): Yeah, we didn't expect to be coming back quite this pale.
HARDMAN: Tourists like the Giovettis have spent the past month and a half getting rained out of luaus, hikes, and other Hawaiian staples. Local industries like landscaping and construction have also suffered.
William Thornquist sits defiantly in a Hawaiian shirt, despite the steady rain along Front Street in Maui's Lahaina Town. Thornquist runs a tourist information booth in Lahaina, where a sunny vacation is usually a sure thing thanks to long droughts and only 14 inches of rain annually.
Mr. WILLIAM THORNQUIST (Maui Resident): For the first couple of days it was a novelty, and we enjoyed it, you know? And we'd go stand out in the rain on Front Street. And now it's enough.
HARDMAN: Thornquist says he's lost business and had to give some refunds over the last month. He watches as tourists slowly window-shop in an array of parkas and raincoats.
A few stores down, a local blues musician, who goes by Joshua, stays dry inside an art gallery. He smiles as he mimics the sound of raindrops with his guitar.
(Soundbite of guitar sounds)
Conjuring the local aloha spirit, he offers a song to anyone struggling with the weather.
JOSHUA (Musician): (Singing) Raindrops keep falling on my head...
HARDMAN: Trade winds are finally expected to push the storm system out to sea over the next few days. Hawaiian Civil Defense officials plan to issue damage estimates by Friday.
For NPR News, I'm Jesse Hardman, on Maui.
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