This is a poignant time of year for Kauai because it marks the anniversaries of two devastating and deadly tsunami. I always remember the dates because the first happened on April 1, 1946, the day my first husband was born, while the second occurred on March 6, 1957, the day of my own birth.
Each year, when these dates roll around, I am reminded that coastal residents in Hawaii are living on borrowed time. Or perhaps more accurately, in a fool's paradise. This is especially true on the North Shore of Kauai, where the April 1 tsunami leveled the Wainiha-Haena area and at least 14 people died — many of them children.
Now this very same area is lined with million-dollar homes, most of them sleeps-12 vacation rentals. Some of them have bedrooms on the ground floor, in direct violation of federal regulations. Though the YMCA camp at Haena was destroyed in both the 1946 and 1957 tsunami, it's now surrounded by expensive homes, including one listed for sale by anti-GMO filmmaker Teri Tico. It's not far from the ocean front TVR owned by her co-propagandists, Pierce and Keely Brosnan.
Though these Wainiha-Haena vacation rentals lure their guests with language about the soothing sounds of the sea right outside their door, they don't offer any sort of meaningful tsunami evacuation plan, except “head for the hills.” Or perhaps more accurately, kiss your ass goodbye.
According to media reports about the tsunami (emphasis added):
In addition Haena's isolation and its link to the rest of the island by several bridges made rescue efforts difficult. The 1946 tsunai hit with two powerful waves, with a maximum run-up of forty-five feet in elevation. All the bridges at Wainiha were washed out, and the tiny village of Wainiha itself was flattened. At Haena, most of the damage occurred on the flat at the Wainiha end of the ahupaa.
The area is still isolated, reached only by crossing the same small bridges that were washed out in '46 and again in '57. But the neighborhoods are now populated primarily with transients, making it difficult to create a viable community emergency response team.
Yet despite these very real dangers, and the area's vulnerability to tsunami generated by earthquakes in the Aleutians, it's the hub of high-end TVR action — the very same TVRs I highlighted in the Abuse Chronicles.
And all those Chronicled TVRs are still there. Even though I documented that the county had issued their permits improperly, none of them had their permits revoked. Worse, the county is still using the bogus valuation forumula that allowed homeowners along that coastline to rennovate and greatly expand their houses without having to elevate the structures to comply with federal flood laws.
But most everybody just keeps pretending like it's all fine. North Shore activists work themselves into a frenzy over imagined agricultural harms on the westside while ignoring the death traps in their own neighborhoods. The county keeps issuing building permits and collecting the property taxes; the Realtors and speculators keep flipping houses and driving up real estate prices.
Stick your head in the sand, and worry about it later.
Though Wainiha-Haena is perhaps the most egregious example of this complete disregard for public health and safety, it's happening all along that Northwestern coast.
While the 1957 tsunami resulted in no deaths, it did cause $2 million in damges — double the amount of the 1946 disaster. Again, according to news reports:
Some 75 homes were demolished or damaged along the 15 mile strip between Kalihiwai and Haena. An estimated 250 persons were homeless. An estimated 250 persons were homeless. More than 1,000 were isolated when the Kalihiwai bridge crumbled under the power of the waves. Out of 29 homes that once stood at Haena, only four can now be lived in. A YMCA boys' camp, recently repaired from 1946 tidal wave damage, was washed out to sea. Power and telephone lines were down for a mile along Haena flats.
There are now far more than 29 homes in Haena. Coastal areas at Anahola, Moloaa, Kalihiwai and Anini have been heavily built up, and again, many of these structures are rented to hapless tourists.
I started digging into the North Shore TVR issue after a tourist died while jumping off an unpermitted dock at Wainiha. That led me down a rabbit hole of county corruption-incompetence that allowed a deadly tsunami zone to become a defacto high end resort.
While the county is now starting to work a bit harder on enforcement, and has taken commendable steps to prevent a similar proliferation of B&Bs and homesteads, the core problem remains. Meanwhile, illegal operators and their attorneys know how to game the system, tying up proceedings endlessly in court or contested case hearings as they meanwhile keep operating.
I've given up all hope that the county will ever be able to deal effectively with this issue. But I still hope that Mother Nature doesn't provide her own tragic solution to this travesty of land use planning.