DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
About 40 yards of debris littered Kamehameha Highway just north of Waimea Bay after a rock slide early yesterday morning. Most of the rocks that fell were contained by steel netting that had been installed along the side of the road after a slide at the same spot seven years ago. Police closed the road to traffic as workers cleared the boulders, some weighing 30 tons or more. CLICK FOR LARGE
Waimea Bay rocked again
Reopening of Kamehameha Hwy. possible tomorrow
» Rock fall a hurdle, but many on North Shore take it in stride
The state Department of Transportation hopes to partially reopen the only road that connects the North Shore tomorrow morning.
But that will depend on an inspection today of the cliffs above Waimea Bay to determine whether it is safe to reopen Kamehameha Highway after more than 30 tons of rocks -- some as big as cars -- fell onto a protective fence and part of the roadway at about 1 a.m. yesterday morning.
Construction crews will continue removing loose rocks from the hillside today, said DOT spokesman Scott Ishikawa.
No one was injured in yesterday's rockslide, which happened in the same place where a similar but much smaller rockfall closed the highway seven years ago.
The rockfall in 2000 prompted the state to shut down Kamehameha Highway for about three months while it installed a 1,000-foot fence and moved the road away from the cliffside.
The damage yesterday could have been much worse if not for the $4 million in safety improvements, said acting state transportation director Barry Fukunaga.
Safety measures credited with limiting slide damage
State officials credit a 1,000-foot protective fence and safety improvements for minimizing the damage caused by an early morning rock fall yesterday.
More than 30 tons of rocks and boulders, some larger than cars, fell on Kamehameha Highway and forced the closure of the North Shore's only thoroughfare.
But because of improvements made after a similar, smaller rock fall in 2000, officials are optimistic that one lane of the road will reopen for contraflow by tomorrow's morning commute.
CLOSURE AFFECTS BUS RIDERS
While Kamehameha Highway remains closed at Waimea Bay, TheBus riders on the 52 Wahiawa-Circle Isle and 55 Kaneohe-Circle Isle routes are being let off at temporary bus stops where the road ends, so they can walk around the blockage and continue their journey from the bus stop on the other side.
Bus pickup times may vary because of the road closure.
There were no injuries, but a driver in a white pickup truck bypassed a roadblock and ended up getting stuck in the debris after the rock fall occurred at about 1 a.m.
"The system in place actually did what it was supposed to do," said Barry Fukunaga, acting director for the state Department of Transportation.
Engineers will examine the cliff today to determine if it is safe to reopen the highway.
Construction crews are expected to spend most of today bringing down other loose rocks and boulders and hauling them away.
Yesterday and into the night, contractors cleared much of the rock that fell onto the highway. Crews from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources also rappelled down the cliff to survey whether any native Hawaiian burial sites could be disturbed by today's work, said DOT spokesman Scott Ishikawa.
The cliff shed about 50 yards of debris, exposing orange and light-brown dirt and rock yesterday. Large boulders ripped through part of the "impact fence," which kept most of the debris off the road.
A rock fall in March 2000 prompted the state to start a $4 million project installing the 10-foot-high, 1,000-foot-long fence and moving the road away from the cliff, adding 21 feet to Kamehameha Highway.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Police stopped all traffic yesterday as workers cleared boulders from the road. A worker cut through the steel netting to make the boulders more accessible for removal. CLICK FOR LARGE
Fukunaga said the road originally was up against the cliff, and yesterday's rock fall would have swallowed that part of the road.
"The distance between the road and the rock base is designed to accept the initial drop of the rocks," Fukunaga said. "That dissipates a tremendous amount of energy, and the fence line itself absorbs that when it bounces."
Fukunaga said it was too early to tell how much yesterday's incident would cost.
Steve Martel, a geology professor at the University of Hawaii, said he and a colleague had made laser scans of the cliff side in January that detailed the geometry of the slope, inside and out.
They went to the site yesterday to scan the rock fall, and hope to present to state officials a "before and after" scenario to see what changed.
"In Hawaii we have steep slopes, highly fractured rock, abundant rainfall, luxuriant vegetation," Martel said. "All of that contributes together to weaken the rock."
Martel said weathering and roots embedded into the cliff helped fracture the earth, and that it won't be the last time Oahu will see such rock falls.
"It has happened again and again, and will happen again and again," Martel said.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Onlookers could see the cleanup of boulders behind the police line yesterday as all traffic was stopped on Kamehameha Highway just north of Waimea Bay. Becky Jay, left, said she had driven through the night before, just missing the slide. CLICK FOR LARGE
Rock fall a hurdle, but many on North Shore take it in stride
For the most part, North Shore residents are refusing to let yesterday's rock fall spoil business or Easter celebrations this morning.
However, Lynette Talboys' birthday celebration in Haleiwa yesterday had to be changed. The Talboys live on the other side of the rock fall.
"We were supposed to go to Haleiwa Joe's tonight for my wife's birthday, but now we're not," said 44-year-old husband Greg Talboys.
They also needed to pick up a prescription in Haleiwa for their 11-year-old daughter, but called a Kailua pharmacy instead. Yester-day's road closure brought back bad memories of the 2000 rock fall when Greg Talboys lived in Haleiwa. Gov. Ben Cayetano declared a state of emergency and closed the highway for three months until safety improvements could be completed.
"It was horrible," Talboys said.
"I work in Honolulu, and I'm gonna have to drive around the back side if they don't have it open Monday. I hope they do," he said.
Several North Shore businesses suffered in 2000. But Planet Surf Manager Jonathan Hood said yesterday's rock fall might present a short-term boost in sales if the road opens by Monday.
"We're pretty much the only surf shop on the Sunset Beach side," Hood said. "Business might be better because of the traffic being turned around right back to us. We were busy all morning."
Two employees couldn't report to work because of yesterday's road closure, Hood said. "There was no point in having them drive two hours to get here, work for a few hours and then drive two hours to go home."
Traffic clogged up by Waimea Bay Beach Park as drivers were turned around. Cars filled up slots at the park and overflowed into grassy areas. Bicyclists picked up their bikes and hoofed it across the beach.
Traffic woes may worsen today since lifeguards expect the surf to be up. Capt. Bodo Vanderleeden of the city Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division said he had to bring in an extra lifeguard to augment his staff of three at the beach yesterday.
"Luckily the surf isn't very big," he said. "(Today) the swells may come up, but hopefully there won't be many people since they would know about the road closure."
Lifeguards yesterday shuttled some people back and forth on all-terrain vehicles. They also shuttled speakers, sound equipment, a drum set and several guitars across the beach to the park for the North Shore Christian Fellowship. The group was setting up for its 30th annual Easter sunrise service at the park.
Pastor Butch Perreira said before the rock fall, he expected more than 1,000 people to attend the service, which will feature music and food. Now he hopes to attract even more attendees.
"It's kind of a novelty now," Perreira said. "You know Hawaii, people always like to come out to see what's happening. It's not gonna stop us either way."
Perreira said during the 2000 road closure, he used two cars -- one each parked on opposite sides of Waimea Bay -- to get around.
"Today it's a rock fall, but other days something's always closing the road, like accidents, or poles falling," Perreira said. "I think everyone puts up with it. That's just the price you pay for living in beautiful North Shore."