WAINIHA, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - As water levels drop on Kauai and recovery efforts continue, officials are warning residents of a new concern: The dangers of getting sick after coming in contact with bacteria-laden floodwaters.
"Any time there's been flooding, the main thing we worry about is things have been flushed into the water," said Dr. Janet Berreman, who heads up the Kauai District Health Office. "The main health and safety concerns are that flood water is dirty. It has animal and other waste in it and, of course, it floods our septic tanks and cesspools and creates hazards that way as well."
On Saturday afternoon, the Hawaii Department of Health reminded residents and visitors to stay out of floodwaters due to a brown water advisory for the island.
"We are receiving reports of people swimming in Hanalei Bay," said Elton Oshio, administrator for the Kauai Emergency Management Agency. "The public is advised to stay out of the water until the brown water advisory is lifted."
Berreman said there have already been several reports of people experiencing medical problems after clearing out flooded homes and wading through floodwaters. The most common complaint so far: People are developing skin infections from the dirty water, she said.
On Friday, the state Health Department deployed a medical team to Kauai to offer assistance to flood victims in the hardest hit areas. The team is providing services at the Hanalei Colony Resort in Haena from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and is expected to be there for several days.
Wilcox Health has also made medical professionals available in flood-devastated communities. On Saturday at 9 a.m., a team of doctors and nurses will be providing care to patients at St. William's Catholic Church in Hanalei.
"Those floodwaters are going to be dirty and of concern for a long time," Berreman said, adding that people should regularly wash with soap and fresh water after coming into contact with floodwaters and cover any open sores or cuts.
The warning comes five days after historic flooding on Kauai, and as Red Cross and county assessment teams are still trying to get a scope of the disaster, slowly working their way into communities cut off by mudslides and devastated by floodwaters that ripped homes from foundations and washed away roads.
On Friday, assessment teams were set to go door-to-door to survey the damage in Wailua, Keapana, Anahola, Moloaa, Wainiha and Haena.
Up and down the island's north shore, clean-up and recovery efforts continue alongside a push to ensure that flood victims in the hardest hit areas have access to the basics — bottled water, food, and a ride out on a helicopter if they want it.
Meanwhile, Kauai County officials say air evacuations are ongoing, but will cease Saturday at 4 p.m.
Since Monday, upwards of 500 people have been rescued from devastated communities on Kauai's north shore, some of whom escaped rising floodwaters by climbing to their rooftops. Others simply watched their homes washing away.
There are signs of progress, though: Power was restored islandwide Thursday, including to about 200 customers in Wainiha who had been without power for days. And county officials were able to lift a "do not drink" advisory for some areas of Kauai, and on Saturday, residents along a portion of Kuhio Highway in Haena were told that they could resume normal water usage.
Education Department officials are hopeful, too, they'll be able to reopen Hanalei Elementary by Monday. The school has been closed for repairs.
Though life is slowly returning to normal in some spots, Kauai leaders continue to stress that the road to recovery will be a long one — and that simply reopening Kuhio Highway — damaged by more than six mudslides — could take weeks.
Kailua police reminded residents on Saturday that the highway area between Waikoko and Wainiha remains closed as crews work to clear the landslides.
The push to get supplies to those who need it is also ongoing.
Government agencies and volunteers have come out in force to deliver pallets of water, canned goods, toilet paper, even blankets and clothes to those in communities cut off by severe damage to major roadways.
State and county officials say the landslides that continue to block Kuhio Highway make it impossible to predict when evacuees might be able to return home. The state Transportation Department has said there's no timeline for repairs to the highway.
"We're going to have people stranded across the river in Wainiha probably closer to a month — so this is not going to end," said Kauai Councilman Mel Rapozo. "They're going to need food and water and supplies."
The torrential rains that hit Kauai over the weekend and into Monday have been called unprecedented, and many were unprepared for the flooding that followed. But flood victims are being buoyed by the help of friends, community members — and complete strangers.
For a full list of ways to donate and get involved, click here.
This story will be updated.