Riding the bus back from town on the night of Nov. 9 students said they were surprised at about 10 p.m. when the bus stopped by the Hauula Shopping Center and the bus driver told them they had to get off the bus about 3 miles short of their final destination in Laie.
“We had to walk in dark and in the pouring rain from the Longs Drug Store parking lot all the way to the campus,” said Monica Rubalcava, a sophomore in graphic design from California.
They didn’t know until they got to Hauula that a power pole had been knocked down earlier near Pounders Beach leaving live power lines lying on Kamehameha Highway and closing down the only roadway between Hauula and Laie. Hawaiian Electric Company officials said the pole was struck that night by lightning during heavy rain and winds and it brought down other poles with it. The downed poles caused a power outage affecting about 300 customers along the highway and causing dancers in one section of the Polynesian Cultural Center’s night show to dance in the dark, reports the Associated Press.
Rubalcava said she and about 30 other bus riders were soaked through as they made their way through the storm with just emergency flares to guide them through the tangle of downed lines. At 10 p.m. police officers where there, she said, but utility emergency crews weren’t on scene yet.
“The police officers just told us to follow the flares,” Rubalcava said. But the stormy night made it difficult to see where all the black power lines were. “My roommate and I helped each other get through it,” she said pointing out if one of them got to close to a line. She added they would have used their cellphones like flashlights to make the trek easier but they had run out of power.
The closed highway stranded Hauula residents in Laie and Laie residents in Hauula.
BYU-Hawaii employee Kevin Salts drove that night with a couple of his sons from his home in Hauula to the Laie Foodland grocery store to buy ice cream and rent a movie, said his wife, Anjeny. But the power pole went down before he could make it back home. He and his sons ended up waiting in Laie for the road to open in the morning.
Foodland was able to stay open after the initial blackout because it has a backup generator, said one of the employees stocking shelves. He said they have to have a generator to keep operating freezers full of food. Students and others wearing rain ponchos braved the bad weather to come to the store while some people sat in their cars in the parking lot trying to decide whether to wait for the road to reopen or brave driving around the island to make it back to their homes that were only a few miles away.
Heavy rains at the rate of 2 inches per hour pounded parts of Oahu that day, reported the National Weather Service in Honolulu, causing flooding and closing Kamehameha Highway in spots like Waikane Stream where it had surged more than 6 feet. Another power pole went down in Haleiwa as well shutting down the highway there as well.
People’s cellphone blared flash food warnings off and on for three days before the power pole was hit and continued through the early morning of Nov. 10 as rain pounded the island.
BYUH students returning from a concert in town said they arrived at the Hauula Shopping Center late Saturday night and waited in their car until daylight, said Katie Bak, a junior in political science from Minnesota. She and friends Tucker Grimshaw, a senior in English from San Diego, Calif., and Alyssa Walhood, a senior in English from Oregon, said power lines were still on the ground at 6 a.m. when they walked through Laie and officials told them the road wouldn’t open for at least two or more hours.
Besides waiting out the storm and road closure in their cars, stranded people also spent the night at family or friends homes or on campus. When the sun came up, people arrived at the two ends of the closed road to walk through to the other side deciding to leave their cars until they could come back and pick them up once the road reopened.
Emergency crews reportedly did let a few people through the closed road but only for medical emergencies before they opened a contra flow lane shortly before 10 a.m. on Sunday. However, Kamehameha Highway wasn’t completely reopened until approximately 4:15 p.m. Sunday afternoon, reports AP. Power was restored to all customers by 7:40 a.m. on Sunday as well, it says.
Having the about 3-mile stretch of road closed overnight and into the morning got people discussing the need for secondary roads to be built between Laie and Hauula as well as Laie and Kahuku to keep people from being stuck when Kamehameha Highway gets shutdown. Part of the Envision Laie proposal for the Ko’olau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan includes restoring the old sugar Cane Haul Road. The Envision Laie website says the “Cane Haul Road, parallel to Kamehameha Highway, is being looked at as an alternate route. This road would reduce congestion throughout the area and could potentially connect Hauula all the way to Kahuku. The road would also provide an alternate route when an incident occurs on Kamehameha Highway or in case of an evacuation.”