They were raised on the river. Now they can’t recognize it.

They were raised on the river. Now they can’t recognize it.
Tyler Gomez and his daughter, Kiare, stands at the banks of the Wainiha River by his home on Kauai. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tyler Gomez has lived in Kauai’s Wainiha Valley his whole life.

It’s where he tends to his family home, property he hopes to pass on to the next generation. And it’s where he watches the ebb and flow of the Wainiha River ― a waterway he thought he knew as well as himself.

Tyler Gomez has lived on the banks of the Wainiha River his entire life.
Tyler Gomez has lived on the banks of the Wainiha River his entire life. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

But two years ago, his world changed.

In April 2018, a series of torrential thunderstorms produced record-breaking rain on Kauai.

Areas of the island got up to 4 feet of rain, setting a U.S. new record. And the devastating floodwaters that were produced damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes, and washed away highways and roads.

This story is presented as part of HNN’s new three-part documentary series, “A Climate for Change.” To watch the first episode and see more coverage on the impacts of climate change in Hawaii, click here.

Gomez said the rain just wouldn’t let up ― and he saw the river he grew up with rise to levels he still can’t wrap his head around. Water washed away his dog house, nearly taking him with it.

Soon, the water was lapping at his front door.

“The water came up to our door and started coming in. I thought we were going to get washed down the river in our house,” he said. “It was really horrible, nervous breakdown stuff.”

The family grabbed their pets and went into their tree house, waiting for the water to recede.

Scientists haven’t been able to definitively link the 2018 flooding on Kauai to climate change, but they say a warming world makes flooding rains, rain bombs and stronger hurricanes more possible.

[SPECIAL SECTION: A Climate for Change]

And Hawaii has seen those effects first-hand.

In the summer of 2017, a series of “king tides” sent water washing over seawalls, swallowing up much of Waikiki Beach and flooding communities like Mapunapuna.

The following summer, Hurricane Lane barreled toward the state as a Category 5 storm before weakening into a tropical storm close to the islands, serving as a real wake-up call for the state.

And just this past summer, record-breaking heat plagued the state.

Experts say extreme weather events have become more and more common in Hawaii and around the globe over the last decade ― and are a preview of what’s to come.

“Things are already underway and the impacts are growing, unfortunately,” said Josh Stanbro, the city’s chief resilience officer.

“We’re already seeing it around us and we’re already locked in for a lot more change over the next decade. That’s why it’s really important for us to slam the brakes on burning fossil fuels now and transition to a clean energy economy so that we can avoid even worse changes that are coming.”

Kiare Gomez spearfishes in the Wainiha River, which her family has been maintaining for generations.
Kiare Gomez spearfishes in the Wainiha River, which her family has been maintaining for generations. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

In the wake of the 2018 record rains, Gomez said, the river behind his home has flooded more and more often. He can hardly recognize the banks his family has tended to for generations.

“It’s just a new normal. New limits, new dangers,” he said. “I feel sorry for my future, my kids."

One of his children, Kiare, frequently swims in the Wainiha River. She said the water has left her anxious.

“I’m scared for my family,” she said. “Because one big flood could wipe out my house and everyone in it.”

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