Kokua in Texas

For­mer Big Isle cou­ple liv­ing near Hous­ton res­cue dozens of storm vic­tims

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By KIRSTEN JOHN­SON

The way Ikaika Kail­i­awa-Smith sees it, when some­one needs help, you step in and as­sist. That motto led the Big Is­land na­tive-turned-Texan to vol­un­tar­ily res­cue at least 40 peo­ple stranded in their homes by flood­ing caused by Hur­ri­cane/ Trop­i­cal Storm Har­vey.

“Com­ing from Hawaii, ev­ery­one tries to help every­body,” Kail­i­awa-Smith, 25, said by phone Tues­day. “And that’s the way my par­ents raised me, too. It’s just some­thing you do. You help other peo­ple.”

The storm slammed into south­east­ern Texas on Fri­day as a Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane. It forced tens of thou­sands of peo­ple to evac­u­ate their homes and is be­ing called the great­est rain­storm in the coun­try’s his­tory. By Tues­day af­ter­noon, rain­fall in Hous­ton had largely ceased and Har­vey was mov­ing east, but about 30 per­cent of the Hous­ton area was re­port­edly un­der­wa­ter.

Kail­i­awa-Smith now lives in the Hous­ton area with his wife, Alyssia, and four chil­dren. He and his wife are 2009 Kon­awaena High School grad­u­ates.

He said he be­gan his res­cue ef­forts Fri­day night when a trapped friend called need­ing as­sis­tance. Heavy rain had just be­gun, Kail­i­awa-Smith re­calls.

“At that time, my truck was just above the tires (in wa­ter),” he said.

The next day, Kail­i­awa-Smith said he got an­other call — a church leader and his fam­ily were stranded on their roof. Wa­ter had risen higher than 6 feet in some ar­eas. Kail­i­awa-Smith and his wife pulled out their 14-foot fish­ing boat, towed it be­hind their truck and launched it into the church leader’s flooded street to make the res­cue.

Kail­i­awa-Smith said he soon no­ticed dozens more peo­ple were sim­i­larly stranded. So he and his wife spent the week­end and most of Mon­day res­cu­ing peo­ple, trans­port­ing many to nearby safety. He said they used their lifted pickup to reach stranded res­i­dents un­til wa­ter got too high, at which point they launched their boat.

Kail­i­awa-Smith said he’s also an Army vet­eran who served two tours in Iraq. He said his own home was spared from the flood­ing, so he wanted to help oth­ers. He said, “be­ing ex-mil­i­tary, it’s hard not to help” those in need.

Late Tues­day af­ter­noon, he es­ti­mated he’d res­cued at least 40 peo­ple — and count­ing — since Fri­day.

“I can’t even ex­plain it,” he said re­call­ing the sight of dozens of Tex­ans trapped on their rooftops. “I’ve been to war and back. I’ve seen a lot of stuff. But when it’s down the road from your house, it’s crazy. Just the help­less­ness on peo­ple’s faces. A lot of peo­ple didn’t want to leave, and that was the hard­est part — leav­ing peo­ple be­hind. Their houses can be re­placed, but their lives can’t.”

Kail­i­awa-Smith’s ef­forts were brought to the at­ten­tion of the Tri­bune-Her­ald on Mon­day by Chad Nakan­ishi, a Hilo na­tive who now works as a ra­dio pro­ducer in Hous­ton. Nakan­ishi said he first be­came friends with Kail­i­awa-Smith about 10 months ago.

Nakan­ishi said he de­cided to check on his friend to see how he was far­ing dur­ing the storm and was pleased to hear he “de­cided to kokua.”

“He texted me some pho­tos and it didn’t sur­prise me at all he would do some­thing like that,” Nakan­ishi said. “He has got the aloha spirit, and that’s the way peo­ple in Hawaii are.”

Kail­i­awa-Smith said all the driv­ing through flooded road­ways ul­ti­mately cost him the drive shaft on his truck, but he’s hardly wor­ried.

“Peo­ple I picked up were just say­ing, ‘Thank you, thank you so much, we lost every­thing, but thank you,’” he said. “They just kept say­ing that. And I’m like, ‘Don’t thank me, I’m just an­other per­son … that could help.’”


Ikaika Kail­i­awa-Smith and his wife, Alyssia, both 25, pic­tured in July. Kail­i­awa-Smith says he’s helped res­cue about 40 Tex­ans trapped on their roofs since Fri­day us­ing his lifted pickup and his 14-foot boat. He and his wife are from Kona. They have lived in Texas since grad­u­at­ing in 2009 from Kon­awaena High School.


Ikaika Kail­i­awa-Smith, pic­tured here from be­hind, said he has used his lifted pickup to res­cue about 40 peo­ple in the Hous­ton area trapped by flood­ing since Fri­day. This photo was taken in a neigh­bor­hood where Kail­i­awa-Smith said dozens of peo­ple were trapped on their roofs.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.