Major cleanup effort continues for Oahu communities

Updated: Mar. 11, 2021 at 2:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Major cleanup efforts are underway in Windward Oahu and the North Shore after torrential rains and flooding this week swamped communities, sending fast-moving floodwaters into homes and burying properties under several feet of debris.

The governor and Honolulu’s mayor surveyed flood-damaged communities on Wednesday afternoon and pledged a quick government response. The governor has declared a state of emergency following days of flooding across the state; the mayor has also signed an emergency declaration.

In Haleiwa town, businesses were planning to bring in heavy equipment to clear tons of debris pushed onto their properties as nonprofits and churches started gathering donations for impacted residents.

Behind one business, the debris stood 7 feet high.

And as the clean-up started, many were also trying to grapple with just how quickly the floodwaters rose to historic levels. On Tuesday night, an evacuation order for Haleiwa town was lifted after the immediate threat of “catastrophic flooding” from Opaeula Stream subsided.

The stream rose Tuesday afternoon from 4 to 16 feet, with water rushing toward the ocean and pouring into homes, parking lots and businesses.

“The police were on the microphone saying everyone needs to evacuate. this is life-threatening,” said Haleiwa resident David Astor. “We were packing our bags so we were kind of prepared for it.

“But we weren’t expecting something like this.”

Resident Diane Starling called the extent of the damage “shocking.”

“Then this morning it was a little more overwhelming because it’s so different and then you have to deal with the reality that you have to clean it up. It’s hard.”

John Acuna, who owns Surf and Salsa, said it took minutes Wednesday for floodwaters to progress from worrisome to life-threatening. “Everything is pretty much gone,” he said.

“We just have to rebuild. That’s all we can do right now.”

Some in Haleiwa had just 15 minutes to prepare before water rushed into their yard. They were able to pack up some valuables but little more before they evacuated.

Others only had five minutes.

“I’m just glad we made it out of there,” said Jasper Warren, who lives near Haleiwa and Waialua Beach Road. He returned to his home to find muddy floodwaters covering his floor and furniture.

He laid out his clothes on top of his car and hosed them off in hopes of getting the muddy water out.

“We’re alive, that’s what matters,” he said.

Even as the floodwaters receded, forecasters warned that any prolonged rains could trigger flooding again. Heavy showers were seen across parts of Oahu on Wednesday and Thursday.

A flash flood watch remains posted for the entire state through Friday.

“The ground is saturated from the recent rainfall,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Ballard, adding that drying out will take time.

The full extent of the damage left behind from the torrential rains was still being assessed.

City crews were expected to fan out across impacted areas to assist in the clean-up and determine how widespread the flooding was.

The city is also asking homeowners and business owners to complete an online tool to report flooding damage. The tool is for information only and not to apply for any possible recovery funds.

The severe flooding in Haleiwa on Tuesday capped a day of damage for Windward Oahu and the North Shore. Earlier in the day, several homes in Hauula sustained significant damage in rising floodwaters. There were also reports of cars submerged in water and trees down.

On Monday, the same severe weather system hit Maui, triggering severe flooding that destroyed or badly damaged at least six homes, washed out roads and bridges, and caused a century-old dam to overflow. Kauai is also grappling with damage, including a large landslide onto Kuhio Highway.

This story will be updated.

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