written by John:
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They happen fast, in a flash. Flash floods. That's why they call them that. I had just talked my friends next door into helping me haul in some pieces of wood I saw out on the point. The stream in front of my house turned into a river over the past two days and delivered them down from the mountain; they were definitely not from the ocean. Heavy rains in the mountains all week must have washed them away from somebody's wood stash upstream. They were cut into neat blocks that looked like they might be transformed into bowls by some wood turner. I couldn't recognize the tree by color because it was wet, nor the bark, but it was dense, heavy, and a beautiful deep maroon red. Maybe keawe wood, aka Mexican mesquite.
Bey was dragging two pieces at a time with the dolly while Alban and I rolled single pieces up and away from the incoming tide. It was getting close to 4 in the afternoon and the gathering sky looked ominous, more so than the previous evenings. The clouds approached and the wind picked up. A clap of thunder cracked overhead announcing the arrival of yet another storm system; angry dark grey clouds moving on a darker gunmetal grey blue mass. We abandoned our work to get in out of the rain.
We could see it coming. Looking south toward Kailua, I watched the black clouds envelop that part of the island and it disappeared along with my view of the Pali highway. Next, the Marine base at Kaneohe disappeared as the storm marched across Kaneohe bay towards us. I could no longer see the Ko'olaus (the mountain range that separates us from the other side of the island). By 5 P.M. the rain began to fall hard, by 6 P.M., there was a constant, heavy downpour. By seven, the rain was torrential and the stream was a raging beast rising faster than I'd ever seen it, for all the time I have lived here. I didn't like this.
We sit down for dinner at 6:30 and by that time I was really nervous, I already suspected what was going to happen next and this was the time we should have made our move. I'd get up from the table and go to look out the kitchen window but it did me no good, it was too dark to see. I'd return to sit down and then I'd get up again and go back to the window. I didn't want to open the door because of the driving rain that would come into the kitchen.
I just sat down again when I started hearing a sound above the rain. I knew that sound, too; it was the water rushing in the river. It had to be near the top in order for me to hear it, which meant it would be topping over our wall any minute.
Our neighbors who live across the stream from us turned on their balcony/lanai lights and we were horrified to see the water had run above the bank on their side and was flowing over their driveway and garage slab. Bits of fence on each side of their property had already been torn away. I told my wife we were evacuating.
I will never know why I suggested it, but I ended up moving my car to higher ground first. My plan was to come back to get my wife and we would drive out together in her car. It would be a mistake, but that's what I did. The water was already coming over our retaining wall which stands two feet high off the ground. I drove away in running water that was already ankle deep next to our house.
When I got up to the highway, my plans changed drastically. I realized the high water level had created many hazards along the way. I planned to park on the other side of the highway, but like the highway, it was all under water too! Our section of road had already been closed off to through traffic and the only others on the road were people like me who were in danger and had to evacuate. I drove towards the place Candace and I always seek shelter, up on a hill over a half mile away. I thought I would be able to get there quickly but that didn't happen. There was a detour being set up to enable cars to avoid deep ponds that had formed from other minor tributaries that carry overflow into the sea. This is, after all, a delta area. The biggest problem I encountered was cars stalled in front of me; people who could not make up their minds which way to go. They would get stuck because they stopped in their tracks, in the middle of a bad situation making it worse. Once they stopped moving forward, water would rush into their exhaust, shutting down their engines. I waited for one car on the opposite side of the street to get through and once it did I passed two or three cars in front of me who had stalled in the water while deciding to make their move. I forged ahead through runoffs that were flowing over the highway, finally arriving at the blockades where the police closed traffic lanes coming from the opposite direction. I made a right turn off the highway, drove up the hill, and parked my car.
I'd been gone way too long and I had to get back. Here I was, already soaked to the bone, preparing to walk the half mile home in a driving rain. I had been diagnosed with strep throat just days before all this and even though I was on medication, there was an instant I paused to worry if I might get really sick from this, a thought that didn't stay with me long. It just didn't matter at this moment. I had to do what I was going to do come hell or high water, both of which were presenting a pretty strong case tonight. I opened the door and stepped into the downpour. Two bright flashes went off immediately and a thought crossed my mind. I wondered if I wouldn't be in tomorrow's papers: "Man disappears in storm." It was my worst moment. I also knew there was a possibility I could get struck by lightening. A record number of lightening strikes on and around the island would be tabulated on this night, more than 14,000 in all and I had to walk back home through it.
I had a small umbrella (lightening rod) that kept the rain out of my face, and my glasses clear. The wind came from every direction and the water rose, getting deeper as it flowed across the road into the bay. An occasional car would drive by from either direction, risking all to get to where they were going.
I was half way home when the current tore one of my slippers off. It popped up next to me, and I snagged it with my umbrella as it tried to float away. I would get knocked over if I bent down and I couldn't stand on one leg to put my slipper back on. The current was too strong. It would roll me down, and carry me out to sea. Now, I was barefoot. There was no time to worry about cutting my feet, I reasoned most rubbish underfoot would have already been cleared away.
I could only watch, mesmerized as the sky erupted all about me. The on-off light switch effect created a landscape that appeared as an apocalyptic, end-of-the-world-scenario. Different sections of sky were lighting up everywhere; some at the same time, distant, close, overhead. The smell of ozone: gnarly, intertwining cables of electricity, neon, sizzling strikes boring into the earth, accompanied by earsplitting thunder.
I stopped (only once) to observe the rare phenomena (I'd never seen anything quite like this) in front of me. I was walking through a force of sheer energy and power and it seized me, offering me a different take on nature's destructive, incredible beauty. I forced myself to keep moving, don't stop. A normal ten minute walk took me 40 minutes. I turned down our lane, incredibly thankful to see that my wife's car was still there. I could only hope that it would start.
I pulled off my wet clothes and changed into something dry. I would be completely soaked again in a few minutes. I ran to my wife's car, and the water level was almost even with the chassis. I opened the door and got in before the current emptied inside. I stuck the keys into the ignition and it started! I backed up to the front porch to make it easier for my wife to get in. Trying to turn around could prove to be treacherous, so I backed out up to the road, heading to high ground in the opposite direction that I took my car. I chose a small lane that turned off the highway at a much higher elevation than at my house. We hunkered down with our thoughts and watched the lightshow. More than once, a car, or truck attempting to turn around on the highway almost drove into us. Fire engines came and went and we wondered where they were headed. We would read in the paper that people had to be rescued from the roofs of their cars. People were stuck in streams in the next valley up the road. We watched the electricity go off, first from the light poles on the highway, and then the light from surrounding houses darkened. We sat there wet and cold for a couple hours before the rain subsided enough for us to decide it was time to go check on our home. We passed over our stream. Fortunately, all water levels had gone down, but there were huge amounts of mud and debris down there. We risked some deep water to retrieve my car and then drove back through a detour to avoid those troubled spots. The electricity was out, but we were back in our dry house, safe. Thankful that there was enough hot water for both of us to shower, happily, we climbed into what we really wanted to come home for, the welcoming comfort of our bed.
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