Lawmaker becomes Good Samaritan in flood rescue

Published  9:57 PM HST Apr 25, 2013
WAIKANE, Hawaii -

A sudden downpour on Oahu's Windward side turned a Wednesday evening drive into a frightening emergency for a number of drivers.

When the heavy rains and thunderstorms hit, it caused the Waikane stream to rapidly rise to around seven feet in just one hour.

That not only sent water rushing over Kamehameha Highway and the Waikane Bridge, but it also submerged six cars stalled in the rising waters.

It should be just another day at the office for State Representative Richard Fale. But it's hard to shake the memories from Wednesday night.

"It was actually the first time I've been in a life threatening situation," said Richard Fale, a State Representative for District 47.

On his drive from Hau'ula to town, Fale stopped at the flooded Waikane Bridge. He says three cars were stranded and the flood water was quickly rising.

"It felt like we we're in the ocean and the currents were just pushing us," said Tupou Taumoepau, a stranded motorist.

"I knew that without police and fire there and with the water rising as quickly as it did, there was a good possibility that someone might get hurt if something wasn't done," said Fale.

Fale says he reacted on instincts, and helped get most of the stranded motorists to safety including a woman who had climbed onto the hood of her car.

"They were in the most dire situation so I helped her, took her across the stream to my vehicle," said Fale.

But when he returned to rescue the driver, he found the car was already starting to float.

"I was really concerned that if it swung off the road and into the stream that it was going to sink right to the bottom and uncle wouldn't be able to get out," said Fale.

Fale tells us that he was eventually able to push the car out of harm's way and keep everyone safe.  He does not yet know how the state plans to do the same for future flooding at the Waikane Bridge.

"This is going to be a very unique challenge for engineers because the way that stream runs parallel to the road for a significant amount of distance, and rules we have in regards to outfalls and oceans, I think this is going to be a pretty big challenge for the state to solve," said Fale.

The following is a statement from the Department of Transportation:

"The flooding in the Waikane Valley area during significant storm events is a concern for the Highways Division, as quickly rising waters can pond over sections of Kamehameha Highway and pose safety hazards for motorists. The bridge is located within a Federal Emergency Management Agency floodway, as illustrated in the blue portions of the map below. The root cause of the flooding, however, is not the bridge itself, but the large upstream drainage basin, combined with the general low elevation of the area and the lack of a defined channel to direct the water flow to the ocean. The basin stretches approximately a 1/2-mile mauka of the bridge and also extends roughly 1/5-of-a-mile south."

"The Highways Division does have plans for a future replacement of the existing Waikane Stream Bridge, originally constructed in 1928, with a new bridge that will meet current state and federal design standards. The proposed bridge will be 40-feet wide, with 12-foot lanes and 8-foot shoulders, and provide improved pedestrian access, guardrails and abutments, at an estimated cost of $8.6 million. Pending funding availability, construction is anticipated to begin in FY 2016 and be completed in FY 2017. The new design will increase the flow capacity beneath the bridge, but it will not solve the persistent flooding issue as the larger floodway basin extends far beyond this one structure."

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