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Kaua'i Resilience Team Rallies to Keep Residents and Supplies Moving During Road Closures

Pelika Andrade
Volunteers shuttle residents and supplies across the Hanalei River after a major landslide blocked access along Kuhio Highway just before the Hanalei Bridge.

Heavy rains on Kaua?i triggered a landslide last week that completely covered K?hi? Highway just before the Hanalei Bridge – essentially isolating communities from Hanalei to H??ena. Fortunately, a cadre of community-bred leaders set up an all-volunteer shuttle system along the Hanalei River to transport residents and supplies until government officials can restore roadway access to their communities.

For the past five days, the Kaua?i Resilience Team has been organizing a shuttle system of boats, UTVs, and now busses to transport isolated residents from the Hanalei side of the river to the town side and back. Megan Wong is one of the shuttle system's organizers. 

“A lot of people are leaving in the morning for work. We get them on the boat, we cross them over. The UTV picks them up, takes them up the hill,” says Wong, “Anyone that needs to get to Princeville or Kilauea check mail, go to the bank, get gas, get food. They are going to be on a drop off and pick up system.”

Pelika Andrade is volunteering her time directing traffic on the Princeville side of the operation. She's one of hundreds of residents who have donated their time, resources, and energy, to ensure a smooth operation.

“What's really great about it is they've rallied with the (2018) flood. So they're kind of like, they already have a network,” says Andrade, “They already have this really great communication with each other. They know who to call, what to call for, and when to call."

Wong says the operation looks like “organized chaos.” Community members with boats, zodiacs, and even jet skis, shuttle residents over the river as early as 7am to get to work. The afternoon shuttles are filled mostly with cargo and supply runs, shuttling things like groceries, gas, and medical supplies.

Local businesses like Tahiti Nui Restaurant in Hanalei and Saenz ?Ohana Breakfast in Princeville have been donating hot meals to road workers, first responders, volunteers and anyone in need. Andrade says in return she tries to support these local eating establishments and encourages other residents to do the same.

"The thing makes our island so special is not just our experience of going through these things together multiple times, but actually the connectedness that we have," says Megan Fox, Executive Director of M?lama Kaua?i, "You know, we're small, we're not like a city on O?ahu where people don't know their neighbors. We're very connected and that connectedness is what makes us resilient."

Fox was able to work with the all-volunteer shuttle system Friday to deliver more than 100 CSA (community-supported agriculture) bags, 200 lbs. of local ground beef, and 80 loaves of locally baked bread, to families isolated by the road closure. 

The threat of isolation during a natural disaster is an all-too common experience for residents on Kaua?i’s north shore. But over the years this lifestyle has built a brand of community resilience forged out of necessity and cultivated by a culture of reciprocity.

Wong says the 2018 flood, which partly cut off access to the coastal communities of Wainiha and H??ena for more than a year, was an opportunity to refine that resilience plan. But things are different this time around.

“People have food, they have shelter, they have their vehicles. No one?s been flooded out, you know, so that's a little bit of the difference,” says Wong, “There's not so much the feeling of emergency as it is like figure out a system that we can take care of our community long term?"

It’s a question communities across the island chain are grappling with following weeks of heavy rain, flooded roadways, and washed out bridges.

“If the whole island or even the whole state could be affected by something devastating, can we take care of each other until backup can come in?" says Wong.

The answer at least for those gathered at the mouth of the Hanalei River is a resounding yes.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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