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Historic rain inundates Kauai, cutting off Hawaii residents and tourists with floods and mudslides

Neveah Okuno, 13, at her home in Koloa, Kauai, on April 16. Heavy rain and flooding caused extensive damage to the north and south parts of the island in Hawaii. (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser/AP)
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A historic torrent of rain pounded the Hawaiian island of Kauai this weekend, with more than two feet of rain lashing the tropical paradise in 24 hours.

According to the National Weather Service in Honolulu, the rain gauge in the town of Hanalei collected 27.52 inches of rain from early Saturday morning into Sunday morning. That beats all previous one- and two-day rainfall maximums for that location.

Kauai is, of course, no stranger to rain. It is one of the rainiest places on Earth, with the 5,148-foot-tall Mount Waialeale receiving more than 400 inches of rain annually. Hanalei, where the 24-hour rainfall record was set, averages 78 inches per year.

Still, the Saturday-Sunday inundation was far too much for Kauai to handle.

Flash flooding and mudslides have caused major damage to roads and bridges on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. (Video: The Washington Post)

The flash flooding and mudslides that resulted caused major damage to roads and bridges across the mountainous island, and many communities were completely cut off. The heavy rainfall damaged or flooded dozens of homes in Hanalei, Wainiha, Haena and Anahola, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Kauai is a major tourist destination, with hotels and resorts ringing the emerald green coastline. After this weekend’s deluge, some visitors may not be able to get to and from the airport in Lihue for several days. The island’s major road, Kuhio Highway, remains closed because of landslides as of Tuesday morning.

“From all of what I’ve seen this has been the worst flood event I’ve ever seen my 49 years here on Hanalei,” Alex Diego told the Garden Island newspaper. “The house got water in it for the first time ever.”

About 30 campers were stranded in a park as of Monday evening. State parks officials are coordinating with county and state emergency workers on reconnaissance missions to rescue the campers, according to the Associated Press.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) issued an emergency proclamation Sunday for Kauai County, and Coast Guard helicopters have been employed to rescue people stranded on rooftops and other locations. No major injuries or loss of life have been reported.

Bill Hodges, 70, of Annapolis, was vacationing near the town of Wailua and said he woke up early Sunday to torrential rains and a Fourth of July-like display of lightning.

Although Hodges’s hotel was unscathed, the campground next door in Lydgate Park was flooded with more than five feet of water from an overflowing Wailua River. Nobody was hurt, but a woman tried to drive her car through floodwaters and ended up needing to be rescued.

The record event with rainfall rates up to perhaps 6 inches per hour was caused by an upper-level low situated to the west of Kauai. The setup tapped into enhanced moisture in the lower levels of the atmosphere and created “intense anchored thunderstorms over the mountains of interior Kauai,” according to Robert Ballard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hawaii.