HANA, Hawaii (KHON2) — A 26-year-old California woman is dead after being swept into the ocean due to a flash flood that pushed through the Waioka Pond in Maui on Thursday, Feb. 18.
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Maui Fire Department (MFD) officials said, crews responded around 9:56 a.m. to reports of several swimmers who had been swept out into the ocean from the flash flood. Two individuals were able to climb to safety and a third was swept out but swam back to shore, according to MFD.
The fourth person — the 26-year-old victim — went missing and was last seen clinging to rocks as the water pushed through. Fire officials said, land and air units extensively searched the area with the help of local residents.
The victim was found unresponsive around 1:30 p.m. along the rocky shoreline, according to MFD. Air 1 transported the 26-year-old to awaiting medical officials where she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Tony De Jetley, a Hana resident, said Waioka Pond can become very dangerous with heavy rains.
“When it flash floods, it flash floods extremely quickly, normally engulfing within a minute and a half,” said De Jetley. “Imagine that, 60 seconds is all you have from being in the pool to get to safety.”
The Maui Fire Department said:
“Never cross or swim in streams or ponds when dark clouds are on the mountains. Flash flooding can still occur even when sunny due to rain clouds at higher elevations.”
“It may not be raining all that hard where you are, where you may be swimming but just upslope it can be raining extremely hard, and then that causes a flood wave to rush down the slopes and may catch unsuspecting people in a bad place. So, looks like what happened this morning in the windward side of Haleakala,” said Thomas Birchard, National Weather Service senior forecaster.
De Jetley said, the signs were all there this morning with dark clouds and the heavy rains.
“The past few weeks, it’s been raining, and the ground’s all saturated. And then we got a really heavy rain today, and because the ground is really already saturated, everything just started flooding,” said De Jetley.
He said, people in Hana know the precautions because it happens regularly with heavy rains, but people not familiar with the area may not know about the flooding.
“If more education was put out to travelers visiting Hawaii and visiting Maui… I mean the airlines, you have a captive audience for a few hours on a plane here safety videos could be done,” said De Jetley.