Saturday, November 22, 2003

People at the Halona Blowhole lookout were dwarfed yesterday by huge waves created when the high surf crashed on the rocky shoreline below.


A "perfect storm" northeast
of Hawaii stirs giant waves,
road closures and evacuations

A rare northeast storm about 1,000 miles from Hawaii generated waves of up to 30 to 40 feet and sent them crashing onto the east shores of all islands yesterday.

The high surf closed roads, forced the evacuation of homes and complicated an already difficult search for a couple who were attempting to sail from Kauai to California. U.S. Coast Guard officials have been searching the area some 950 miles northeast of Oahu since a radio beacon from the sailing vessel Azure was activated at 5:30 a.m. Thursday.

"The conditions out there ... are similar to the movie 'The Perfect Storm,'" said Coast Guard Lt. James Garland.

Weather forecasters said they expected the high surf to continue throughout the night and peak when high tide hits sometime between 1 and 2 a.m. today. Surf of up to 25 feet is expected to continue all day today and might not start to decrease until tonight.

Friends of Paul Tatsui helped clear debris after his home on Kaikoo Street in Paukukalo, Maui, was damaged from high waves surging along the shoreline northeast of Kahului.

The couple on the Azure have been identified as a Brian Moore and his wife, both said to be in their 60s, who were sailing to Long Beach, Calif. Coast Guard officials said 25-foot swells and 37-knot winds were hampering rescue efforts, though they were able to confirm that there was no one hanging on to any of the four rescue rafts they found in the area.

Three of the rafts were identified as the ones that were dropped by the Coast Guard along with survival kits, while the fourth was believed to be from the Azure.

"We have not found the boat," said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer David Mosely, who was on a C-130 aircraft yesterday morning looking for the missing couple. "Maybe the sailboat is there but we haven't found it, or maybe they're hanging on to wreckage.

We can't count that out yet."

The lifeguards at Sandy Beach kept a close eye on the high surf yesterday. The beach was closed, and sightseers were kept on the far side of the beach access road.

Though the area of the search is out of range for the Coast Guard's Dolphin helicopters, the cutter Polar Sea was expected to reach the location of the radio beacon's origin by 10:30 last night.

National Weather Service officials said storm-force winds of up to 50 knots -- an estimated 57.5 mph -- northeast of the Hawaiian Islands were generating the monster surf. Highest were reports of 40-foot waves on Maui, at Baldwin and Kanaha beach parks. Meteorologists said while big surf in the winter is not unusual for the state's northwest shores, it is rare for such a swell to hit the northeast.

"It's a winter phenomenon," said lead forecaster Bob Farrell. "Actually, it's unusual to see surf this big from this particular direction any time of the year."

Waves forced the evacuation of two homes in the Paukukalo area on Maui and another home in East Maui, out in Keanae. Waves also destroyed six makeshift houses on the Big Island in the Pu'u Maile/King's Point area, forcing most of the 100-plus residents there to seek shelter elsewhere. Civil Defense officials opened up two shelters, one at the Civic Auditorium in Hilo and another at the Pahoa Community Center.

On Kauai, county officials advised 20 residents living north of Anahola to evacuate for fear that surf would wash out the only road out, cutting them off from the rest of the island.

Waves also battered several Young Brothers Ltd. barges as crews tried to maneuver them into neighbor island ports. Young Brothers President Glenn Hong said harbor swells delayed unloading cargo on the Big Island, Kauai and Maui. Two barges heading for Kahului Harbor on Maui had to be diverted to Molokai and Oahu.

"There's so much wave action that we are unable to safely bring in vessels," said Hong, adding, "The problem with these onshore swells is that vessels can lose control and go sideways very easily, which would end in disaster."

People at the Halona Blowhole were dwarfed by the huge waves created yesterday when the surf crashed onto the rocky shoreline.

Oahu Civil Defense officials said they knew of no forced evacuations, though there were some voluntary evacuations. Honolulu Fire Department officials said they did assist police with flooded conditions at a Milokai Street home in Aikahi.

"Where the surf hit us, there weren't as many people living there as there were on other islands," said Oahu Civil Defense spokesman John Cummings.

Surf still sent waves washing over sections of Kamehameha Highway in Windward Oahu near Hauula and Kaaawa, closing a portion of the main road. Police were able to reroute traffic on the road shoulders, however, around the branches, rocks, sand and other debris brought by the swells.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Lois O'Connor, who has lived in her Kaaawa beachfront home for 26 years.

The Department of Education also announced the closure of two area schools, Kaaawa Elementary and Hauula Elementary, because of a lack of student attendance due to the road conditions.

Jeanette Maiwiriwiri, a Laie Elementary School third-grader, was one of those mesmerized by the incoming tide as she watched with her mother Thursday night from their Hauula home.

"I saw a big splash. It was like a tidal wave," she said, adding that water lapped across the road to their driveway.

Onlookers jammed the side of the road to watch the action, including Anela Rosario, right, Joshua Cruz and David Navales.

There were more wave watchers on Oahu's east shores, where the big surf forced the closure of Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach and Makapuu Beach Park. Though no one was in the water, hundreds of onlookers lined Kalanianaole Highway yesterday afternoon to watch the massive waves crash onto shore.

"It's the most awesome display of the ocean's energy I've ever seen in my life," said Kalihi resident Shannon O'Brien, who was videotaping the surf at Makapuu yesterday, but not before he had stopped off at both Sandy's and Hanauma Bay first.

"Sandy's is my beach. I've been going there for 28 years. I've never seen anything like this."

Ocean safety officials made no rescues yesterday, probably because almost no one went into the water, said Capt. Kevin Allen, with the Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services at Koko Head District Park.

Traffic due to onlookers was another matter, however.

"It took almost 20 minutes to get from Koko Head to Sandy's," Allen said.

"As long as that storm exists, the high surf will continue," said Farrell, "but as the storm moves toward us, it will weaken."

Rough waves pounded on the sea wall of a Kualoa home yesterday as Kaulana Kamaka'ala and Moe Riordan put up plywood in an attempt to protect the property.

A monk seal tumbled ashore at Sandy Beach yesterday with the high surf.

Star-Bulletin reporter Sally Apgar contributed to this report.


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