Apparent drowning in Wailuku River

HILO — Two people were swept into the Wailuku River by rapidly rising flash-flood waters Friday night above Piihonua Falls and one, a Caucasian woman in her mid-20s, is still missing, according to the Hawaii Fire Department.

According to a written statement, rescuers responded to a 6:04 p.m. alarm. A man who was swept into the river with the woman told rescuers he was able to get to the river bank and make his way out of the rain-swollen stream. He said he couldn’t find his hiking companion.

Fire Rescue personnel were unable to do an in-water search because of the flood waters. The search was suspended at nightfall and resumed today.

Wailuku means “waters of destruction” in Hawaiian and numerous people have drowned in the river over the years. The recent rains have swollen the tributary, which empties into Hilo Bay, making it especially dangerous.

The most recent drownings were a suburban San Diego couple, 61-year-old George Novinger and his 62-year-old wife, Gladys. They were swept over Rainbow Falls on Nov. 25 and drowned after attempting to cross the river just above the falls, despite warning signs posted by the state.