LIHUE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kaua'i dodged Kilo, but experts say a threat still looms -- the massive Albizia trees that are present all over the island, which they say carry the potential to wreck more havoc than was caused by Hurricane Iniki.
"At that time Albizia was not as big as a problem. It was not as extensive or the situation was not as big on Kaua'i, but if that same hurricane had hit today with the populations of Albizia that are now there -- the destruction would have been much greater and the problems, the impact to health and welfare and infrastructure would have been much greater," explained Flint Hughes, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry following the devastation caused in the aftermath of Hurricane Iselle.
Kuhio Highway is the only link to Kauai's North Shore and it is surrounded by towering Albizia trees. A one mile section in Kalihiwai is particularly problematic, which is why the state plans to spend $3.5 million to eradicate the invasive species.
Kauai officials say lessons learned in the aftermath of Iselle have spurred an increased urgency to address long-standing safety concerns posed by albizia trees.
"It was an eye opener. It definitely made us look more into how do we go ahead and control the albizia as a whole in Hawai'i," said Ray Kahaunaele, the field operations supervisor for the Kaua'i Invasive Species Committee.
Sprouting more than an inch a day, the invasive weed is considered one of the fastest growing trees in the world, but experts say they're weak and shallow-rooted.
"They're a major menace. There's a lot that grow close to homes and they're out of control and branches overhanging on houses can be a real danger," described Skip Mac, who works for Tip Top Tree Trimming.
Residents say it's not just high winds that knock them over, but heavy rain as well. One tree came crashing down Thursday and is now causing flooding concerns.
"Whenever it rains, they're popping left and right and coming down the river like freight trains. They're not just little things they're massive and when the river floods they're moving pretty fast, so I know they're a big problem," said Carrie Souza, a Kalihiwai resident.
The state spends more than $200,000 annually to clear Albizia from Kauai roadways, including the high priority area along Kuhio Highway between Kalihiwai and Kalihiholo roads. According to state officials, the Albizia mitigation project there is expected to take 18 months to complete.
They plan to remove more than 2,500 Albizia trees and native species will be replanted in their place.