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Monday, October 30, 2000

rescued from
Hana flash floods

The newlyweds were in a car
that was washed off the road by
floodwaters on Maui's road to Hana

By Gary Kubota
Maui correspondent

WAILUKU -- A storm that dropped more than a foot of rain in 24 hours turned the scenic road to Hana into a dark and dangerous waterway yesterday, stranding tourists and residents and washing a car carrying a honeymoon couple off the road.

Matthew and Kara Whittaker, both 24 from Rhode Island, were on their way from Haleakala National Park in Kipahulu toward Hana at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday, when their rental car was swept away by a flash flood near a bridge at Waiokapia Gulch near Hamoa.

"You don't think it's happening," said Matthew Whittaker, 24. "I prayed a lot. ... It was a very unforgettable honeymoon."

Whittaker said there was no rain and the road had only a little brown water on it when suddenly, rocks, brush and mud pushed against the left side of the car.

He said the water continued to rise, so they lowered the window and climbed onto the convertible top.

The car was swept about 40 feet downstream before lodging in a tree and the couple climbed onto branches to keep above the flow which at one point completely covered the car.

The couple waited in the tree for about 45 minutes before they were rescued.

"They were scared and they were cold but they weren't hurt," said Erik Larson, a Haleakala National Park ranger who helped in the rescue.

"They were lucky."

Larson said the water had subsided a little bit by the time he arrived and he worked with Maui residents Larry Stark and Charles Johnson to rescue the couple using a rope as a guide and safety line.

Larson said he had never seen rain as heavy as yesterday.

"The roads were literally rivers," he said.

"I've never seen rain like that. It was coming down in sheets."

Whittaker estimated that at its height, the water was about five- to six-feet deep.

As they waited in the tree, the heavy rains began and they saw boulders four-feet long and three -feet wide rolling downstream.

The couple, who stayed overnight with a Hana family, were returning to their resort in Kaanapali this afternoon.

Whittaker said he and his wife planned to go on a bicycle tour today, but will now be resting at the hotel.

"I'll be staying far away from where the waves crash," he said.

Fire rescue crews also carried an elderly man to safety after his truck was trapped in high waters outside Hana toward Nahiku at about 5:43 p.m.

Maui Civil Defense officials said families were evacuated from two houses in east Maui and there were some reports of road damage, but officials were still developing estimates of the extent of the damage.

Firefighters also used their truck to bring four adults and five children from their house in an area below the Hana Fire Station, after their house began to flood at about 6:02 a.m. and they were unable to drive to safety.

The Hana Highway was closed at about 4 p.m. and reopened at 11:15 p.m.

Floodwaters even stranded a fire truck at 3:54 p.m. for about an hour because of high water at Kawaipapa Bridge, officials said.

The flooding left more than 140 people, mainly visitors, stranded and seeking public shelter at Hana High School gym and the Hana Community Center. Several stayed in rooms or in the lobby of the Hotel Hana-Maui.

More than 12.6 inches of rain fell in the Hana area from 2 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

The weather service said there also were reports of hail.

The forecast called for sunny weather on Maui today.

On Oahu, firefighters assisted several Kaneohe Bay Drive residents affected by flooding yesterday afternoon.

Police said some rocks and debris washed on to Pali Highway and other roads, but no major problems were reported.

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