Thursday, October 21, 1999

Heavy rainfall
a mixed blessing
for neighbor isles

A group of hikers needed
rescuing, but ranchers
celebrate drought relief

By Gary T. Kubota
Maui correspondent


WAILUKU -- Fear and happiness followed heavy rains on the neighbor islands, as a storm-swollen stream stranded visitors and the downpour gave relief to drought-stricken ranchers.

A flood watch continues to be in effect for all islands, with possible showers and thundershowers, the National Weather Service said this morning.

Weather Service lead forecaster Robert Farrell said the risk of flash flooding appears to be decreasing and that the weather should be sunny by this weekend.

Torrential rain in East Maui sent a wall of water 15 to 20 feet high down a stream at scenic Kipahulu yesterday, stranding 12 visitors.

No one was hurt but the flood waters came suddenly, forcing visitors to scramble up the sides of the gulch.

"I've seen floods and whitewater, but I've never seen anything high like this," said Haleakala Park Ranger Roger Mayo.

Mayo said the flood waters roared down Palikea Stream.

He said tourists on the bridge were shouting frantically to those below resting in the stream bed.

Mayo said he saw people scrambling up the sides of embankments and into little caves.

"I saw 20 full-sized trees, and they were all scattered down in the ocean with leaves," he said.

Mayo said signs banning swimming because of a flood watch were posted at the park, but the coastal section of the stream was dry in places because of a drought, and some visitors were skeptical about the warning.

Park rangers and fire rescue officials helped the 10 hikers through rough trails, then helped them to safety using ropes.

A Coast Guard helicopter used a basket to lift a Pennsylvania couple to safety.

The mood was quite different on drought-stricken ranches on the neighbor islands yesterday.

Champagne corks were popping and there was happy conversation as heavy rains drenched dry parts of Maui and the Big Island.

"We've not had a rain like this since September 1997," said Sumner Erdman, an Ulupalakua Ranch official on Maui.

Ranchers said the rains were probably enough to stimulate grass growth in pastures, enabling them to graze livestock.

On the Big Island, Kahua Ranch official Tim Richards said about 2.5 inches of rain fell on pastures in the last 24 hours.

"It was a good, soaking rain rather than the flash-flood kind," he said.

Richards said the pastures showed a hint of green last week after a third of an inch of rain.

"This follow-up rain is hopefully going to make a difference," Richards said.

Ranchers have been forced to reduce their replacement heifer herds and sell their weaned calves sooner because of the lack of grassland to feed livestock.

Erdman said the rain reached the topsoil, enough to have some ranchers on the Big Island celebrate with champagne. But he said ranchers need more rain to recharge the water table.

"I'd love more rain. We need more rain. This was definitely a pleasant surprise," Erdman said.

Parker Ranch livestock manager Robert Hind said enough rain fell across the 210,000 acres for a "good soaking."

Hind said the ranch, which normally has 40,000 head of livestock, has reduced its herd to 30,000.

He said the ranch is still planning to ship out some 6,000 head of cattle within the next two weeks because of the drought.

"With rain like this happening, hopefully things will return to normal," he said.

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