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Friday, November 3, 2000

By Rod Thompson, Star-Bulletin
Friends and members of the Jungle Juice rock band celebrate
the end of torrential rain in Hilo by rowing a boat
through their front yard.

Some partied,
others panicked

The day after 'a long, long night'
brings Big Islanders' stories of
danger, material losses
and 'flood idiots'

County seeks disaster aid

By Rod Thompson and Cynthia Oi

HILO -- As rain falling in pre-dawn darkness pounded the Mililani Street home where Jessica Yamamoto was staying yesterday, the 25-year-old woman was afraid -- not for herself, but for the 1-1/2-year-old baby she saw a mother carrying through 3-foot-deep flood waters.

Yamamoto was among a group of young people, members and friends of a rock 'n' roll band called Jungle Juice, many of whom were staying up all night partying rather than trying to make their way through the storm to a nearby Red Cross shelter.

The thought was, "Instead of mourning, let's party," said band member Mike Jackson.

Unlike the diehards, Yamamoto went to sleep, but the neighbors woke her at 4 a.m. "I woke up because they were screaming," she said. "I panicked, because I looked out the window and I saw this little baby, and it was pouring rain. I was scared for the baby."

The group, a mother and father with the baby and two older boys, was slogging through the band's flooded yard, wearing pajamas and carrying a plastic bag with towels in it, she said.

"They were panicking because their phone didn't work," she said.

Yamamoto took the baby girl into the house to keep her dry, while someone from the band made a call to 911. After about 45 minutes, no help had arrived, and the family took the baby and plodded off into the night to the Red Cross shelter.

Yamamoto had her own encounter with the storm earlier in the evening. The car she was driving hit a submerged rock where a flooding stream was crossing Hoaka Road in Waiakea Uka. Yamamoto was stranded in the middle of the road in the middle of the stream.

Fortunately, a friend called a tow truck for her.

The band had been practicing until about 11 p.m. at a place not too far from their home when rain suddenly got heavy. The group went home, thought about going to the Red Cross shelter, but then decided to stay put, Jackson said.

Suddenly the water around the house rose two feet in 20 minutes, he said. The group scrambled to drive their cars out of the front yard and onto high ground across the street -- except for a van that was already too flooded to drive.

The next morning, a friend brought a rowboat to their yard. The water covering the lawn was now 4 feet deep.

Band member Kekoa Willing could hardly believe what he was seeing. "This is the craziest thing that ever happened," he said.

As the weather cleared in the afternoon, the group started rowing around their yard, out to the back where a washing machine floated and Halloween decorations hung in a flooded garage, back to the front where the self-proclaimed "flood idiots" let off steam cheering motorists who slowly drove by, watching the group's boating spectacle.

Ten miles to the south in the Paradise Park subdivision, Kentrell Santos and her boyfriend, Michael Anderson, were going through a similar experience, without the benefit of a boat or party animal friends.

Anderson got up at about daybreak and saw that flowers in the back yard were underwater. He suddenly realized that probably meant his car was underwater, too.

Water in the middle of the front yard was 4 feet deep, although the car was sitting in a more manageable two feet of water.

The car was saved, but Anderson had also brought home a used 32-inch television the day before the storm. Returning to the carport, he found it sitting in a foot of water.

In the late afternoon, the rain had subsided, but damage along East Hawaii roadways appeared extensive.

The first inkling that Corrine Vicente and her roommate, Allena Tan, had that something was amiss came in the middle of night when they heard bumps and crashes from the garage under their two-story home.

"It was the washing machine and the car banging each other," Tan said as she sat in the Red Cross shelter at Aunty Sally's Luau House. The flood had also ripped a propane gas tank from a neighbor's house, and that added to the din of metal against metal.

The two women were too afraid to leave the house.

"More worse, we don't even know how to swim," Tan said.

Neighbors whom they know only as the "Flores boys" rescued them, using a boogie board to float them one by one from their porch to higher ground.

The boys also rescued an elderly woman and three other children who were at the woman's home, next door to theirs, Vicente said.

"They took each of us to safety, then went back and got the others," said a grateful Vicente, clutching a small airline bag, all that she saved from her flooded home.

Tan had only a small leather backpack. "We no more nothing," she said. "That's all."

Verna Dias, Red Cross disaster chairwoman for the Seven Seas shelter, said many of the volunteers who help during such situations were unable to get to town because roads were impassable.

She left her home in Paradise Park just before midnight yesterday to get to the shelter, where about 26 people spent the night.

"It's been a long, long night," Dias said.

Also along the highway in Mountain View, the driveways of six homes in a row were buckled and washed away. The driveways bridged a drainage ditch, and the flood was so swift and strong, it simply lifted the asphalt, crumbling and cracking it so homeowners could not get to their homes in their vehicles.

Kahikopele Road, near the Mile 18 marker on the highway, was nothing more than a huge crack in the ground. The storm had gouged a 3-foot-deep trench through the middle of the road.

Trees and branches, dirt, rocks and pieces of wooden fences littered the highway.

Children, liberated from school for the day, swam and splashed in a flooded field near Edith Kanakaole Tennis Stadium.

Workers liberated from their jobs also found time to tour the flooded Bayfront Highway, where a Chevron station was awash in two to three feet of muddy water.

Prince Kuhio Mall and Kaiko Mall were shut down.

The KTA supermarket on Kanoelehua Avenue closed early so workers could go home and take care of their families.

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