In flood-devastated Hanalei, a beloved cemetery is covered under a mountain of mud

In flood-devastated Hanalei, a beloved cemetery is covered under a mountain of mud
Published: Apr. 19, 2018 at 9:36 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 19, 2018 at 10:05 PM HST
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HANALEI, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - What used to be a peaceful resting place in Hanalei has now become a place of devastation.

Headstones sticking out of the mud — some toppled, others broken — are the only remnants of the Hanalei Japanese Cemetery after last weekend's widespread floods and landslides.

Tucked away on a hillside just past Hanalei Elementary school, the dirt road leading to the cemetery is covered in large puddles of standing water and mud, making it nearly impassable by vehicle and on foot.

Beyond the road's bend, traditional Japanese grave sites for loved ones are buried under several feet of mud and piles of boulders that came crashing down in a massive landslide earlier this week.

"I was just devastated. I cried when I saw the pictures," said Nani Valpoon, who has multiple generations of relatives resting there, dating back to her great-great-grandparents.

"I still want to cry just thinking about it. I've lost sleep over it. It makes my heart sad," she said. "It's so devastating to know that our loved ones are just covered with debris and mud."

The privately-owned cemetery was described as a peaceful place with a beautiful mountainous backdrop. It was also the final resting place for many relatives for Irwin Haraguchi.

His sister, who died at just 5 months old, was laid to rest there.

"It just makes you feel so helpless. I heard from other people that all of the headstones have been pushed off the graves, some are in the pasture and I guess everywhere," Haraguchi said.

[Kauai evacuations continue amid disaster assessment efforts]

Haraguchi said his family often visits the grave around New Year's and Memorial Day to leave flowers and pray for those who have passed, but this year's visit may be more of a salvage effort.

"I guess we're probably going to have to get our group together and start cleaning things up," he said.

It's been four days since a storm dumped more than 30 inches of rain on Kauai's north shore. The landslide at the cemetery is one of many that have been reported across the Garden Isle.

As state and county crews focus on ridding the highways of debris, clean-up has yet to start at the cemetery and it's unclear when that will begin.

The cemetery's landowners were not immediately available for comment. County officials also haven't said whether they will aid in the clean up.

Families with loved ones at the cemetery say they're hoping to work together to salvage what's left, and put the remains at the cemetery back where they rightfully belong.

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