Torrential rainfall moved through the state of Hawaii on March 8–9, 2021, causing flooding across much of Windward and North Shore Oahu, including the town of Laie, home to the Polynesian Cultural Center, Brigham Young University–Hawaii, and the Laie Hawaii Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
According to a statement released by R. Eric Beaver, president of Hawaii Reserves, Inc. (HRI), the company that manages all of the land in the Laie area, unusually heavy rain throughout the state of Hawaii caused catastrophic flooding across the state, damaging homes, businesses and property. Most of the damage in Laie was caused by overflow of the Wailele Stream and occurred on Tuesday, March 9.
“A federal effort to solve Wailele flooding began in the mid-1990s, and the Army Corps of Engineers completed its study in 2019 recommending that an improvement project move forward,” Beaver said. “We are hopeful that design and construction of the Wailele flood control project will be expedited to prevent future damage in our community.”
BYU–Hawaii spokesperson Laura Tevaga expressed gratitude for the safety of the school during the flooding. “We were very fortunate with this storm. We have some wet carpets and other clean-up we need to do. Our campus drainage system worked as best as it could given the unusual amount of rain we received in such a short period of time.”
James Brown, the BYUH architect, described the extent of the damage to campus buildings. “The Aloha Center experienced some flooding which was probably made worse by the adjacent construction site on the new campus cafeteria. Other campus areas experienced small areas of localized flooding. The simple summary is we that we dodged a bullet.”
The Laie Hawaii Temple which is located on higher ground was not impacted.
“[The rain] seemed like it lasted all day,” said Dana Plomgren, a senior at BYU–Hawaii. “There are places that are still flooded and closed off.”
BYU–Hawaii student Jayna Nielsen said, “Shelters were opened up for people whose homes had been flooded. Sandbags were handed out, and people with trucks helped cars get unstuck.”
As the rain moved away from Laie, it moved toward the mountains just behind the town, said residents Jay and Amanda Reid. “The rivers and canals were flooding due to the mountain water runoff, and this water flooded into Laie,” Amanda said.
KHON2 reported that severe weather was the cause of landslides throughout the islands. Landslides in the Kualoa area, 20 minutes south of Laie, shut down Kamehameha Highway.
Plomgren said that during the storm, she and her roommates were afraid. “It was a little scary. We weren’t sure when it was going to let up. The Polynesian Cultural Center had to close, a few buildings on campus closed, and they had to open up a couple of on-campus residence halls to students who lived off-campus and were affected by the flooding. We got a few emergency alerts, and our Relief Society president reached out to everyone to see if we needed anything.”
A statement released by Polynesian Cultural Center Alfred Grace explained that “Due to severe weather conditions impacting the island of Oahu, the Polynesian Cultural Center was forced to close on Tuesday, March 9. All visitor services were quickly restored and the Center resumed normal business operations on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 10.”
“We’ve had flash flood warnings every day this week,” Nielsen said. “It was kind of surreal that streets could fill up so fast. I felt lucky to live somewhere … the water didn’t affect, but I wanted to do everything I could to help those who got caught in the flooding.”
Jay Reid described how the community basically shut down during the floods to keep everyone safe. “The community was urged to only travel if necessary. The land management company HRI took care of the community by monitoring roads and blocking roads that were too flooded or were a hazard to drive through.”
“If cars would drive through some roads, the water on the road would be pushed onto the surrounding houses, creating even more damage for them,” Jay said. “These roads were shut down. HRI also sent crews to check on drains and keep them clean and clear for water to flow through. They were the head of cleaning up streets after as well.”
Along with the flooding came power outages, according to Amanda. “We only lost power from about 6–8 p.m. on Wednesday, but power was out all along the North Shore from Kahuku to Ka’a’awa and Kualoa.”
Heavy rains continue to threaten Hawaii.