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Power outages, flood damage: As strong storm moves on, communities grapple with mess left behind

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 12:24 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2021 at 10:37 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state is beginning to dry out as a powerful winter storm moves away, but now communities are left to deal with cleaning up a huge mess from torrential rains and severe flooding.

Here’s a look at some of the most significant impacts:

  • Flooding at HECO’s Iwilei substation triggered a significant outage in Downtown Honolulu, leaving thousands of businesses and apartment buildings in the dark. Hawaiian Electric crews were scrambling to replace damaged equipment so they could restore power to customers.
  • Honolulu firefighters made more than 90 rescues during the storm, from pulling people from rain-swollen streams to helping them escape flooding in their own homes.
  • On Oahu and Maui, residents reported significant flooding in a number of areas. Incredible images posted on social media showed cars under water and streets turned into rivers. Maui crews scrambled Tuesday to clear debris from roadways made impassable by debris.
  • Businesses were also cleaning up from the strong Kona low. Floodwaters and the mess left behind forced dozens of shops to remain closed Tuesday so workers could clean up. There was also flooding at Kahala Mall, and the newly-renovated Consolidated Theatres announced it would initially close. However, officials said it would reopen Wednesday as the impact was minimal.

The National Weather Service said the storm dropped more than 10 inches of rain in some Oahu neighborhoods in the 24-hour period ending at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Many areas of the island saw at least 7 inches of rain. Honolulu’s airport got 8 inches of rain, breaking the record for December set in 1987.

As the storm moved over the state, the governor declared a state of emergency to be able to respond quickly to any damage. Honolulu’s mayor has also made a disaster declaration.

“Given the amount of rainfall, people did suffer damage but the worst is behind us,” Mayor Rick Blangiardi said Tuesday morning. “As quickly as possible, we’re trying to get things back to normal.”

In Downtown Honolulu, one of the most significant problems was the large power outage.

The lights went out Monday night after floodwaters submerged equipment at the Iwilei substation. Power to some government buildings and businesses was restored Tuesday morning, but Hawaiian Electric said many in the area will likely remain without power until Wednesday morning.

The problem: Hundreds of feet of high-voltage underground cable was damaged in the flooding.

Across Oahu, few communities escaped flooding during the storm.

In Waikiki, streets turned into rivers. And in many spots, rain-swollen streams flowed into homes and businesses. That left Honolulu businesses in clean-up mode on Tuesday.

The heavy rains left Kakaako knee-deep in storm water, shutting down businesses from Bishop Street to Ala Moana Center.

“The waterline was almost up to the building,” said Eric Iijima, of Queen Auto Sales.

The storm also proved dangerous.

On Monday night, firefighters rescued five people who were trapped in rising Nuuanu stream waters. One of the victims was taken to the hospital for treatment.

The five were among 90 water-related rescues Honolulu firefighters made.

HFD also reported evacuating multiple people from a home in Pearl City around 7:30 p.m. Among those rescued was an elderly woman who was trapped in a room by floodwaters.

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Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon, firefighters responded to a swollen drainage canal following reports that five children had been swept away in floodwaters. Three of the kids were able to get out on their own while two needed to be rescued. And all of the children escaped with only minor injuries.

And earlier in the day, a tree falling on Pali Highway narrowly missed a driver, who captured the ordeal on camera. Bystanders and emergency crews were able to clear the roadway.

Several public schools were also trying to clean up storm damage.

A massive tree fell on the Farrington High School campus, prompting officials to close the school for the day on Tuesday. There was also significant flooding at Pearl City Highlands Elementary School.

The state Department of Education said Farrington High School will remain closed on Wednesday as crews work to remove the tree and Kula Elementary School on Maui will be closed amid repairs to water lines.

Officials said all other DOE schools are scheduled to open on Wednesday.

Here are some of the significant 24-hour rainfall totals for Oahu, ending at 6 a.m. Tuesday:

  • Makua Range: 10.5 inches
  • Makaha Stream: 10.2 inches
  • Moanalua: 10 inches
  • Maunawili: 10 inches
  • Manoa: 9 inches
  • Aloha Tower: 8 inches
  • Waianae: 8 inches

Many other rain gauges around the island recorded 6 to nearly 8 inches of rainfall during the period.

This story will be updated.

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