It was uncharacteristically, even eerily, quiet when Koko and I rose and went walking this morning. Venus was low on the horizon, while the white moon, nibbled away by the passage of time, was high in the sky. Both were swept by clouds that piled up atop Waialeale, where they assumed the appearance of a vivid, old bruise as the sun sent forth color to herald its intention to rise.
And somewhere out there is Felicia, now downgraded to a tropical storm. After surviving Iniki, I don’t worry about weather anymore. I've got food, water, emergency supplies and an understanding of what to expect.
But I do worry a bit about the tourists, especially those staying in vacation rentals in the more remote reaches of the island, like Haena and Wainiha. This region is naturally vulnerable to the vagaries of nature, and pounding surf, howling winds and swollen streams are common there.
Further, there’s just one road in and out, and it’s prone to landslides and flooding in numerous places.
So many of the vacation homes exacerbate the hazards, seeing as how they’re so often built right on the ocean, with just a narrow strip of buffering sand, or alongside streams that are prone to flash flooding. And to make matters worse, some of the units are built on the ground floor of houses, enclosing areas that are intended to be open, so flood waters can wash through without killing people or inflicting extensive property damage.
Sure it's dreamy staying in the wilds of the North Shore, until a storm hits and you're left without water and food and the means to obtain them. I still remember how cut off that area was in Iniki, and how slow aid was to arrive. The people there really had to look out for themselves, and they did.
Now, on any given day, they’ve got hundreds of clueless tourists in their midst, and in the event of an emergency, the burden for their care and feeding will fall on the residents. And since so many neighborhoods have been overwhelmed by these properties, fewer locals are even around to lend a hand.
Resorts have food and water stockpiled, as well as generators and evacuation plans. Tourists staying in the vacation rentals are totally on their own. Our county Civil Defense director told me he worries about these people, too, because he knows the limitations of his agency.
But the county keeps on approving these units, without looking at the cumulative impact on communities, including disaster response and preparedness.
Meanwhile, I heard Cheryl Lovell-Obatake on the radio the other day, wondering why we’re spending millions on a bike path when we don’t even have an alternate route to evacuate the tens of thousands of people living and vacationing along the coast. We already know Kuhio Highway can’t handle a lot of traffic, and it’s right in the tsunami zone.
It seems like we've grown complacent in the 17 years since Iniki blasted through. I just hope it doesn't take another such event to snap county planners and vacation home owners out of their stupor.