HONOLULU — Volunteers on Kauai’s north shore have launched a makeshift ferry service across a river after a landslide along a two-lane highway cut several towns off from the rest of the island.
The boats are taking people across the river to jobs, get medical care and helping deliver taro, the region’s major crop.
Officials hope to reopen at least one lane of the highway for emergency purposes next Tuesday, but the outlook is uncertain. Multiple landslides three years ago cut off a similar section of the north shore for 14 months. This year, one big landslide hit further down the road, blocking off an even bigger portion of Kauai.
Altogether, residents estimate about 1,000 people live in the towns now isolated, including Hanalei, Haena and Wainiha. Three years ago, Hanalei was hit with flooding but the landslides struck on the other side of the town so it maintained its road link that time.
The ferry service runs from a public beach park on in Hanalei to private property about 200 feet or “a short hop” across the Hanalei River. Donations are paying for the vessel fuel, and the boats are taking people over as the demand rises.
“The really amazing thing is that we have a very resilient community, and they came in and put in place their plan to address this need.,” said Rep. Nadine Nakamura, who represents the area in the state House.
The smaller boats can take up to about four to five people at a time. The larger boats are delivering taro, a starchy root vegetable that is a staple of the traditional Hawaiian diet. Hanalei and the surrounding areas grow 85% of the state’s taro crop.
Nakamura said the area’s taro growers need to be able to ship 30,000 pounds of taro a week. Some also need to send poi — a purple glutinous dish made from taro — to markets throughout Hawaii.
Coming the other direction, the boats have brought workers to open Hanalei’s grocery store and bring eggs, bread and other food.
Hermina Morita, a community leader who was helping gather information about people’s needs, said the landslide compounds challenges for businesses in the area.
“With the April 2018 flood and COVID on top of it and then, now, the businesses out here are really hurting,” she said.
Tourism is down dramatically across Hawaii because of the coronavirus pandemic, but especially on Kauai, which for many months has imposed tighter restrictions on travel than the rest of the state.
Still, Morita said many food trucks have been generously serving what food they have.
“They’re feeding volunteers in the communities while taking an extremely hard financial hit,” Morita said.
Jim Moffat, who owns two restaurants in Hanalei, said the area needs a secondary route in and out. He noted that when there’s a tsunami warning and people need to evacuate, there’s no way to get to higher ground when the road is blocked.
“This is silly that in this day and age that there’s no second route out of that community and that we’re piling tons of money into restabilizing a mountainside,” Moffatt said.
Moffatt’s two restaurants — a Spanish tapas place called Bar Acuda and a ramen restaurant called Ama — have been operating at 20 percent to 30 percent capacity four days a week from Wednesday through Saturday because of the pandemic. Moffatt had been anticipating opening further next month when Kauai allows travelers with a negative COVID-19 test to enter without quarantine.
He said he will what the situation looks like next week and decide what to do based on what the community needs.
“But we’re in no rush to do anything. We’re all set and fine. The restaurant’s quiet and everything’s good down there,” he said.